In the essay, I summed up my story of a wasted life in a brief formula: “I came, I suffered, I survived.” But have I suffered and survived in vain? That is the question. To be worthy of the suffering and survival, the least I could do was to render a truthful account of our experiences over the three tragic decades, an account that, though intensely personal, will contribute to a compassionate understanding of history and men.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 19-22. Accessed: 10/29/2019
To be sure, I had my doubts, but I was more homesick than I had realized. Not that I had particularly strong personal tires to return to: my parents were long since dead, I was not married or engaged, and my married younger sister was the only one of my siblings living on the mainland. Neither did I have memories of a happy childhood to go in search of. My mother had gone crazy and then killed herself before I was eight, and my father, stone-deaf and never close to me, had died when I was in my freshman year in distant Kunming. There was little to go back to, but somehow I felt an inseparable bond to the ancient homeland, which had filled my early life with poverty, grief, loneliness, humiliation, insecurity, and the ravages of war. The lure of a meaningful life in a brave new world outweighed the attraction of a doctorate and an academic future in an alien land. And perhaps I was fleeing the esoteric volumes in the university stacks in search of fresh adventures in my distant homeland.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 104-111. Accessed: 11/16/2019
On a sunny day in mid-July, I boarded the USS President Cleveland in San Francisco for my homebound voyage. T. D. Lee, a fellow Chinese graduate student who had taken his Ph.D. in physics the year before, together with Bill Burton, my roommate at the university, and his bride, Ann, came to see me off. When a photo had been taken and goodbyes were being said, it occurred to me to ask, “Why aren’t you coming home to serve the new China?” He answered with a knowing smile, “I don’t want to have my brains washed by others” As I could not figure out how brains could be washed, I did not at the time find the idea very daunting.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 120-124. Accessed: 11/16/2019
I took advantage of the few days left before school started to look up Nome of my college friends and teachers, who were either teaching at a university or working for some government agency. Most seemed contented with the new society and their positions, except for my friend Shen Chongwen, the novelist. I had heard stones of his difficulties before I found my way to his home in a back alley to see for myself. Shen had been an associate professor of Chinese at the university in Kunming when I was an undergraduate in English. Though never in any of his classes, I had sent him my juvenile poems and essays for his advice and had often gravitated to his humble rooms to listen to his charming little stories. I had been spellbound by his natural, gentle voice, though his Hunan accent sometimes made him a little hard to follow. Already a celebrated writer, his classic novel Border Town had captured my heart. Now I found him and his wife living in three humble rooms that were not much different from the ones they had occupied in wartime Kunming, only that in the rooms of the years gone by it was like spring all the year-round, whereas this abode in the imperial capital was rather bleak, at the height of summer. Stripped of his post at Beijing University because of his former non-Communist convictions, he was given the job of a guide at the Palace Museum. Brushing aside my questions about his situation, he chatted and laughed as if nothing had happened, but he questioned me with a touching solicitude about my wanderings over the years. I had never forgotten his inimitable voice, but now, after ten years, looking at his face lit up with a childlike innocence and listening to his natural, smooth voice, I felt “an unspeakable feeling in the heart” (in the phrase of a classical Chinese poet) when he said, with a casual smile, “you can catch swallows on my doorstep.” A writer celebrated throughout the world, a master with disciples and friends all over the earth, why should the New China have no place for such a man? As I said goodbye to him at his outer door, my mind was again troubled with vague misgivings.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 260-274. Accessed: 11/16/2019
When it was my turn, I spoke of my tardy recognition of the great things the party had done for China, I admitted I had perhaps wasted too many years steeping myself in the study of bourgeois Western literature when the Chinese people were fighting for a new China under the leadership of the Communist party, and I expressed readiness to remold my ideology, which had been formed in Nationalist China and the United States. I thought I had gone pretty far in getting to the bottom of things. No sooner had I finished, however, than a bespectacled second-year English major jumped to his feet and called my self-criticism “superficial” and “evasive.” He brandished a paperback American novel one of the seniors in my class had borrowed from me. My righteous accuser pointed to the cover, which pictured a hand with painted fingernails holding a glass of wine, and demanded with indignant eloquence, “Is this the kind of crap you’ve brought back from the U.S. imperialists to corrupt the young minds of the New China with?” The novel was The Great Gatsby. I was much more “backward” than I had realized, but I was not prepared to dump Fitzgerald’s classic. Nonetheless, I had to make a more humble self-criticism a few days later before I was “passed.”
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 369-378. Accessed: 11/24/2019
It was I who had to comfort her and reassure her it was all right, since I was not the only one to be sent away. But I knew better in my own heart, for I had returned only a year before to teach in Beijing, not Tianjin, at the special request of Yenching University. What right did they have to summarily dispose of me? But this was only my first taste of the arbitrary treatment of the individual by the all-powerful state, which would become the inflexible law of life in the decades to follow.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 449-452. Accessed: 12/21/2019
“What right are you talking about? You are a bookworm, professor, you never understand the rules of the game. You’re not living in the United States, but in Communist China.” Yikai smiled at me and stretched out her hand.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 690-691. Accessed: 12/21/2019
It was an exceptionally brilliant day and the grand palace was bursting with celebrators. Bathing in the warm morning sun aboard a pleasure boat, we listened to one of my former students read a directive from the front page of the People’s Daily. The Central Committee called on the whole party to unfold a Rectification Campaign for the laudable purpose of redressing the abuses and errors on the part of party members and party organs at all levels since the founding of the People's Republic. The Central Committee enjoined party leaders at all levels to solicit criticism from people in every walk of life, especially from intellectuals and members of “democratic” parties. The critics were urged to “air their views without reserve” for the benefit of the party and its members. They were solemnly promised: “The speaker is not to be blamed for whatever he says, while he who hears it should take warning.” We all applauded the courageous decision taken by the party and naturally compared notes on what had happened to us the year before. Was the party honestly drawing a lesson from what had happened in Hungary the year before? Honestly trying to live up to its promise of bringing progress and prosperity to a new China? I was hopeful and kept my fingers crossed.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 895-904. Accessed: 12/24/2019
Freedom of speech was having its day; that day was short.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 912-913. Accessed: 12/24/2019
I had come home in good faith to serve what was lauded as a people's revolution, I had tried to put my expertise and conscience at its service, I had overlooked persecutions in previous campaigns as transient aberrations of a new regime that could still lead the nation out of the centuries of darkness. In the face of brutal reality I could no longer delude myself with wishful thinking. I paid heavily for my lesson in the omnipotence of Communist dialectics, which could transform good into evil or evil into good at will, and now I was at the mercy of the iron fist of proletarian dictatorship.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 1069-1073. Accessed: 12/24/2019
“You rightists are enemies of the people. But our great party is showing magnanimous leniency by treating your cases not as ‘contradictions between ourselves and the enemy” but as ‘contradictions among the people.’ Though your crimes are counterrevolutionary in nature, we are not treating you as enemies deserving penal punishment. It is the party’s policy to turn the enemies into friends by giving you the opportunity to reform yourselves through manual labor. You are not even deprived of the right to vote. You have all criminally attacked the socialist system in one way or another. Now you see with your own eyes how socialism is infinitely superior to any other system. You should be grateful to the party from the bottom of your heart for such humane treatment. Now follow me to the polling station.” Thereupon we rightists, some two dozen in all, having been led up to a large ballot box covered with bright red paper standing on a table in the middle of the dining hall, exercised our constitutional right as socialist citizens of the People's Republic of China to cast the sacred ballot for the one and only candidate.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 1148-1155. Accessed: 12/26/2019
“To help you, we must ask you to give up public employment of your own free will. Tomorrow, I expect to see a big-character poster to this effect in your own handwriting. You will both get your wages next month, but they will be your last. So beginning today you must save every fen you can. No more pork in your diet!”
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 1167-1169. Accessed: 12/26/2019
There were no figures for those who had been denounced but spared the label, nor of those who had been driven to insanity or suicide. The “hundred flowers” ended in a mass intellectual castration that was to plague the nation for decades to come, putting to shame the notorious emperor of the Han Dynasty who had unjustly punished only one dissident historian with physical castration. Meanwhile, activists who had performed meritorious service on the battlefield of class struggle against the rightists were rewarded with promotion and membership in the party. A generation of hypocrites and informers began to poison the moral life of the nation and paved the way for more political campaigns to come.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 1199-1203. Accessed: 12/26/2019
ONE DAY IN MAY, WE FOUND OURSELVES OUT IN THE WARM sun each banging on his own aluminum or enamel washbasin to frighten sparrows. We had been ordered to take part in the concerted action of the populace known as the Campaign Against the Four Evils—namely, rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows—again under the personal command of the “Great Leader”. The theory was that sparrows consumed millions of tons of food grain a year, just like rats, and must therefore be exterminated like rats. As mass campaigns were deemed the effective way to deal with national problems any kind, the populace was ordered to wage war on sparrows throughout the land during the same hours on the same day. Pursued relentlessly by the ubiquitous dinning from varieties of percussion instruments, the panic-stricken sparrows kept flying around till they dropped dead on the ground. The evil little birds proved no match for the iron fist of proletarian dictatorship.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 1314-1321. Accessed: 1/1/2020
I was told to leave my things at the desk. When I asked if I might see my husband, a sour-looking officer replied, “This is not a place for family reunions. This is an institution of proletarian dictatorship.” I knew there was no arguing with him, but I wished to learn how Ningkun was being treated there. So I ventured again, “Officer, I visited the model prison on an organized tour with my colleagues from the party school just the other day. It’s rather nice. Is the detention center like that?” He looked amused. “Sometimes I don't know what to make of you intellectuals”, he said. “If all prisons were like that, then why should it be called the model, eh? Foreign guests often come to visit and take lots of pictures.” He laughed.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 1463-1468. Accessed: 1/1/2020
DURING THE YEARS SINCE MY RETURN TO CHINA, I HAD BEEN taught a hundred times that the sacred mission of the proletariat was not merely to emancipate itself, but to emancipate mankind as a whole. Even enemies of one category or another, so long as they were not beyond redemption, would be emancipated from their own reactionary class stand and ideas through forced labor. Forced labor was only the means, not the end. The avowed end was thought reform of the sinners into new men. A world rid of exploitation of man by man, a brave new world of new men! To be emancipated from myself! What magnificent ideas! What splendid prospects of the future! I was fascinated. Even while tormented on the rack of interrogation and denunciation, I never felt altogether certain that it was not I who had sinned against the new ultimate truth of Marxism, who had failed the test of an unprecedented revolution. Perhaps it was my mean understanding and vain pride that had blinded me to the incomparable superiority of the socialist system.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 1646-1653. Accessed: 1/1/2020
One day I went to the camp clinic to ask for some pills for a bad cold. Dr. Bai, who was serving a five- year sentence for raping his patients, said to me condescendingly: “You guys think you’re better off than us convicts because you have not been tried or sentenced. What you actually got is an indefinite term, indefinite, you hear? You will be kept in intolerable suspense year after year! When you do eventually get released, you will not be allowed to go home, but stay right here for the rest of your days. That's the new policy I just learned from an officer. But me, my term will be up in two months' time. When the time comes, pronto, I go home! Am I glad I’m not in your shoes!”
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 1712-1717. Accessed: 1/1/2020
Daily living also became a struggle for survival, with supplies getting scarce by the fall of 1959, the second year of the Great Leap Forward. Instead of leaping forward, the nation was paralyzed by an unprecedented famine following crop failures’ which the party blamed on natural calamities but which the people knew resulted from the party's disastrous farm policies. To make matters worse, when Big Brother pressed for payments in goods not only for the factories built with Soviet “fraternal aid”‘ but for the Soviet weapons and munitions for the Chinese Volunteers in Korea, the government did not hesitate to scour the land for foodstuffs to ship to Moscow. The grain ration per capita was cut from thirty-three to twenty-six pounds a month in the summer of 1959, averaging less than a pound a day. The staples supplied were dried sweet potato strips, sweet potato flour, cornflour, and sorghum flour. Rice and wheat flour were supplied in small quantities on national holidays only. As nutrition was out of the question, the daily concern was how to cook the less than one pound of starches to make it seem more filling. I tried one method publicized in the party papers after another, but was constantly gnawed by hunger all the same. The vegetable oil ration was cut from seven to three and a half ounces a month. Meat and eggs, at first rationed, gradually disappeared from our diet altogether. A black market began to flourish, but the prices were far beyond my means. I began to lose weight, look waxen, and feel weak. My mother-in-law returned to Beijing to live with Ningkun's sister when her diabetes became aggravated due to malnutrition.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 2085-2096. Accessed: 1/3/2020
One day our job was to harvest acres of celery cabbage and load the product onto trucks heading for Beijing. When every single head of cabbage had been loaded, the officer on duty ordered us to pick up the loose outer leaves that lay in the fields. “What for?” I asked timidly. “Your food for tomorrow” was the answer. So we put the leaves in wicker baskets and were ready to take them to the kitchen. “Come back here,” the officer called. ‘‘Why have you not picked up the rest, the dried ones?” Bewildered, I asked again, “What for?” The officer answered in a knowing voice, “Your food for the spring.” My heart sank but my hands followed the order.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 2201-2206. Accessed: 1/4/2020
In the past food parcels for inmates were strictly forbidden because they were deemed bad for their thought reform. Now, under the new circumstances, family members or relatives would be allowed to hand deliver food parcels to inmates, and inmates themselves might write home for food parcels. A new measure indeed! A government that could no longer feed its prisoners was turning them into a charge of their families while keeping them at forced labor in prison!
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 2235-2238. Accessed: 1/4/2020
The sun was up when I got off the local train at the small Chadian station. I went into the bleak waiting room to look for the place where I was to get permission to visit the farm. I found a window with a sign in bold letters reading visitors to Qinghe farm prisoners register here. There were already a few women lining up at the window. I stood behind an unkempt, haggard middle-aged woman wearing an old gray man’s Mao jacket covered with patches. She had a rusty big shovel in her hand. Why the shovel? A work cool for her man? Why no food bag? After a while, I stammered out a question: “What is that for, the shovel, sister?” “I don’t mind telling you, sister, since you are also going to the same place,” she replied naturally. “Yesterday I received a notice from the farm. It says my rightist husband is dead and I can come and bury him. That’s what the shovel is for, to bury my dead man. My man is dead, see?” I noticed a sickly boy in tattered grayish shorts and worn-out black plastic sandals standing close to her. “Is this your son, sister?” “Oh yes, and the dead man's son too. He is only ten. No food, no clothes, no schooling. When a man is dead, he is dead. Isn’t that so, sister? But what will happen to the two of us now?” “I am sorry,” I said helplessly. “He’s dead, he is at peace now. No need to be sorry for him. He no longer needs food. But what will we two, mother and son, do for a living?” After a pause, she asked me, “Is your man a rightist too? You look like an intellectual yourself. “Yes, I am afraid he is,” “I hope he is all right?” “I hope so,” I said weakly, but the shovel made me wince. It had been nearly two weeks since Ningkun wrote. Was I too late? Would I need a shovel too? I shivered at the horrid thought.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 2445-2459. Accessed: 1/4/2020
Once Yikai asked me whether, after all that had happened to me during the past ten years, I ever regretted coming back to China. “Not really,” I said. “I did have moments of bitter regret when I was tortured by fears of imminent death. But they soon went away when I remembered how many others were already dead or dying from starvation with even less reason. Snowbound in the Great Northern Wilderness, I had time to ruminate on my own life and the Communist rule of the past ten years. Though there were apparent options at the time of my return to China, I could have made no other choice than the one I did. My decision was a natural outcome of my life, my dreams and illusions, my virtues and failings, and the chance of circumstance. Of course it would have been better to have been spared the bitter cup, but it was certainly better to drink the cup than to join the informers and henchmen. In any case, I would never have found you had I not returned!”
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 3095-3102. Accessed: 1/5/2020
The colonel was not only unexpectedly congenial, hut actually called on me in our small rooms a few days later. Our move turned out to be well-timed. “I should have come to see you sooner, Mr. Wu/’ began the cx- colonel. “But it would have been to no practical purpose without the recent change in the party's policy toward intellectuals. You have read about what happened at the recent Guangzhou conference, haven't you?” “Yes, in the papers.” ‘‘Good. Intellectuals are now to be considered part of the working class and to be trusted more and treated better. This applies to you too. You were hit hard in 1957; well, that’s history. Now it's time to look forward. Do you have any complaints or grievances to air?” “No, none at all. I am all gratitude,” I hastened to reply, wary of another bait. “That’s good. I like your attitude. You see, some intellectuals don’t understand that our party’s policies have always been going alternately left and right. In 1957, we went left, and now we turn right. It all depends. When Professor Mao of the Russian faculty started attacking the party’s leftist policy of yesterday with the right policy of today, I immediately warned him. ‘Lao Mao” I said, ‘watch out, you may get caught tomorrow for what you are saying today. I joined the revolutionary ranks in my early teens, I have been through a lot.” “I am certainly grateful to you for giving me such good advice before I return to work," I responded with a sincere appreciation of his unexpectedly frank and succinct analysis of the party’s capricious policies. “I was very naive about politics, and still am.” “That’s why you got into so much trouble. You were trained as a student of English literature, and we are very much in need of competent teachers like you. You do your teaching, we mind the politics. With two caps still on your head, an ultrarightist and an element under corrective education, you cannot come back to the faculty, not yet. Perhaps you will be hired as a temporary worker. In any case, your employment will have to be formally approved by the party committee. But I don't foresee any problem, given the party’s new policy and your talent and expertise."
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 3128-3145. Accessed: 1/5/2020
Little did we know that on the political horizon of our disaster-ridden homeland, storms were again gathering that would plunge the nation and my family into the abyss of disasters!
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 3300-3301. Accessed: 1/5/2020
I wandered through the bizarre maze of poster boards to see whether I might be spared this time, hoping against hope. Soon my eye was caught by a caricature that represented me as a smiling tiger, with the caption “The dead tiger isn’t dead.” I was mildly alarmed: did that mean they would see me really dead this time? One poster enumerated my heinous ultrarightist crimes. Another exposed my “criminal past” as an interpreter for the American Flying Tigers and the Nationalist Air Force. Still another denounced my teaching work as an infamous plot to corrupt the minds of socialist youths with decadent bourgeois literature and revisionist ideology. I was charged with resisting educational reform by persisting in using original literary works in English rather than English translations of Chinese political articles as teaching material; spreading enemy propaganda in my listening comprehension course; advertising the decadent bourgeois lifestyle depicted in O. Henry’s short story “The Cop and the Anthem," which happened to contain a mallard duck, Chablis, and a demitasse; holding up a bourgeois English schoolteacher as a model to prettify all bourgeois intellectuals; attacking the New China by innuendo with Gulliver's Travels; and so on. I had hoped to be spared, but I was wrong again. A rightist, even though "decapped,” was by definition a cow demon or snake spirit. I was quickly nicknamed “smiling tiger” by my children at home, who had no idea yet what the fuss would mean to us all.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 3345-3355. Accessed: 1/5/2020
After a brief discussion with Grandma, we decided she could only go back to my hometown, which she had left fifteen years before to join me in Beijing. At least my cousins there would take her in and look after her. Perhaps she could rejoin us when things quieted down. Early in the morning Yikai again sallied forth and had Grandma's residency permit and rations transferred to Yangzhou, while I helped her pack. In the afternoon, Yikai went to the train station and lined up for a ticket to Yangzhou. After we put the children to bed, a pedicab we had quietly hired came to the door. With tears in her eyes, Grandma had a hard time tearing herself away from Yiding, her favorite grandchild. I went along to see her off, carrying her parcels. For fear of attracting attention, she did not even take a suitcase with her. Watching her board the train for the lonely journey home, I felt much worse than I had eight years ago when I was picked up by an army jeep for my lonely journey to the labor camp. When would I see her again? But she was lucky to have got away alive, for several of Yikai’s aged relatives in Tianjin, her paternal step-grandmother and her daughter, and Yikai’s own mother’s brother and wife, were denounced as evil capitalists by marauding Red Guards, summarily murdered in their own houses, and dumped on trucks carrying bodies to the burning ground. Who could tell me why these defenseless old men and women had to be so brutally butchered by youngsters whom they would have loved as their own grandchildren? Why were these and a million other outrages perpetrated in the name of the Cultural Revolution? Yikai had been inconsolably grieved when her mother had died two years ago, but now she took comfort in the thought that her mother had been spared the ordeal of the revolution. Death seemed to be the only comforter in the land under the reign of Red Terror.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 3441-3453. Accessed: 1/5/2020
“The revolutionary action of the Red Guards this morning really touched me to my very soul. There were so many ‘four olds' in my house. I have lived with them so long and taken them for granted. Once they were brought out into the light of day, I was shocked and ashamed to see how long and how fondly I was attached to these relics of feudalism and capitalism. Even gold rings and other decadent things, which the Red Guards rightfully swept away."
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 3500-3503. Accessed: 1/5/2020
“My name is Mao, as in the verb maochong, to pretend to be what I am not. I pretend to be a professor, a poet, a scholar, but I am just a fraud. In reality I am nothing but the dregs of the old society. I served the Nationalist reactionaries, accepted a nominal position from the puppet government under Japanese occupation. I have always led a decadent way of life. Most of the stuff that was heaped on the basketball court in the morning came from my house. All the paintings, calligraphy scrolls, painted fans, and whatnot were out-and-out ‘four olds.’ Some of them were handed down from my parents as family heirlooms I treasured. Now I can see them as exhibits of my dirty soul, which has long been corrupted with feudal and bourgeois ideas and tastes. The revolutionary action of the Red Guards has touched me to my very soul more than it has done any of you, because my sins and crimes are so heinous that they could never be redeemed even if I were to suffer ten thousand deaths. I have always admired the brilliant poetry of our Great Leader Chairman Mao, by the side of which my own poems are mere trash. But now I must assiduously study his poems for the purpose of my thought reform, my soul reform. I am old and tottering, but I am more than willing to reform myself through hard labor.”
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 3511-3520. Accessed: 1/5/2020
In the heart of the city, however, a despairing aged scholar threw himself from the window of his second-story study into a bonfire a band of high school Red Guards had built in front of his house to burn up his lifelong collection of three thousand rare editions of classical Chinese literature. Dashed to his death on the spot, he was summarily condemned as a counterrevolutionary who had thus forever severed himself from the party and the people. Though the Red Terror in the provincial capital was nothing compared to that in the national capital or Tianjin or Shanghai, the toll it took was heavy.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 3524-3528. Accessed: 1/5/2020
Late in February 1968, a telegram came from my cousin in Yangzhou telling us my stepmother had died. Since the “cow demons” had been left alone by the warring Red Guards, I was able to obtain a week's leave from the head of the department and return to my hometown to make arrangements for her burial. I had long wanted to revisit my hometown, but who would have thought my first visit in thirty-one years should have taken place under such circumstances! By the time I arrived, Mother had already been laid to rest in an improvised coffin, for my relatives did not know whether I would be allowed to come home and bury a “landlord.” My heart was heavy when I was told she had died from diabetes because of lack of adequate medication. Now she had been literally “swept away” as one of the “four olds.’’ Perhaps it was just as well, since death had put an end to her sufferings, especially the ordeal of the Cultural Revolution. I recalled how, when I returned from the States in 1951 and invited her to live with me in Beijing, she had looked forward to a happy life in her old age after a decade of lonely widowhood. Maybe she’d had a little happiness, but mostly it was the ordeal of one political campaign after another until the last blow. Now, seventeen years later, I silently followed the flatbed cart that carried her shabby coffin to the burial ground outside the city. Before the coffin was lowered into the pit, my cousin Ningjia, a party member, reminded me to throw some money into it, as was the old custom. I was a bit perturbed by practicing one of the ‘‘four olds” in the midst of the Red Storm. But the grave digger nonchalantly collected the money before he shoveled earth into the pit.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 3590-3602. Accessed: 1/5/2020
In the afternoon I found the kitchen walls and the ground in front of it covered with big-character slogans on yellow paper: Jiang Nan killed herself to escape punishment! Forever severing herself from the party and the people! She died an active counterrevolutionary in vain! A reed mat she gets! Like a dog be she buried! Inured to the revolutionary rhetoric of the times, I didn't take the slogans literally. A couple of days later, however, word got around that Jiang Nan’s shallow grave, in which her body had actually been wrapped in a cheap reed mat, had been robbed. The body was left exposed after a woolen sweater had been stripped from it. It was then hastily reburied under shovelfuls of earth. Before another day passed, word came around that the grave had been robbed again, this time by a wild dog that tore the body to pieces. The villagers complained angrily, “What had the woman college teacher done that she deserved to be devoured by a wild dog? What have we done to deserve such bad luck?” The master workers called a departmental rally to announce several emergency measures: 1. Jiang Nan, whose suicide is a treacherous betrayal of the party and the people, is formally denounced as an active counterrevolutionary; 2. The incident is to be kept secret and anyone who leaks the information to her husband will be denounced as an active counterrevolutionary; meanwhile her husband, already in solitary confinement on campus, will be forbidden any contact with outsiders; 3. The Red Guards and revolutionary teachers should help the peasants to overcome superstition with Mao Zedong Thought; 4. An investigation will be conducted into the incident and any irresponsible speculation or gossip will be treated as a serious breach of revolutionary discipline. But the peasants, who were not bound by ‘“revolutionary discipline,” spoke freely. It soon became public knowledge that Jiang Nan had been repeatedly raped by one or more master workers, who threatened her with dire consequence against her husband if she talked. Later, finding herself pregnant, she went to see Shen Wenwu, the master worker who ruled the department, and asked for leave to have an abortion done at a hospital. But for that purpose a father had to be named. Instead of helping her out of the dilemma, Shen threatened her with the charge of “corrupting members of the working class” if she talked. Driven into a corner and overcome with shame and despair, she had confided to a close friend that she saw no other way out. Her husband had already been in solitary confinement for some time, but was still allowed to take his meals in the dining hall under escort. From the day of her death on, he was not allowed to leave his room any more and his meals were brought to him. He was alarmed by the tightening security, assuming it to be a sign of the gravity of his case. He was indeed kept in the dark until the end of the Cultural Revolution, when the master workers returned to their steel mill in Ma’anshan. The investigation into Jiang Nan's death never got anywhere, because no single master worker could be held responsible for the pregnancy, although several were known to have been involved in the rapes. Many years passed before Jiang Nan was exonerated from the mortal crime of betraying the party and the people and a small compensation allotted her daughter.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 4283-4307. Accessed: 1/5/2020
One sunny afternoon Just as we were about to gather there as usual, we were surprised to see a number of villagers cutting down the trees. ‘‘What’s going on here, Uncle Lou? I can't believe my eyes!” Xiao Sun asked the team leader, flushing with agitation. “Orders, Xiao Sun!” replied the glum man. ‘‘Digging up roots of capitalism! Fruit is a capitalist luxury, and the extra income from our peaches will corrupt our souls, so they say. Don't you see?” Xiao Sun was speechless, but I saw tears in his eyes. During our walk after supper, he said to me, “There are so many things about the revolution I just don’t understand, I will probably never understand. I grew up among fruit trees. They were my playmates and life-givers. Wantonly cutting down a flowering fruit tree is like killing a laughing youth. I’m afraid I’U never make a good revolutionary ...” Soon afterward, Xiao Sun was sent back to his commune to be an English teacher at the local high school, while his more revolutionary classmates were given assignments at the university or in city government departments.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 4436-4444. Accessed: 1/6/2020
‘‘I used to make fifty-nine yuan a month. Now that I am in the countrywide, I will get two yuan less.” “My word, a woman making so much money a month! We peasants are really poor. We don’t see any cash till the end of the year—that is, if we have made enough work points. Half of the families end up owing the production team for their food and fuel when accounts are settled after the fall harvest, after toiling all year round. And you, a woman, getting fifty-seven yuan every single month!” I had never dreamed anyone would envy me for the little that I made, and now these good peasants made me feel like an accursed exploiter.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 4595-4600. Accessed: 1/6/2020
Lao Penghai lived with his family in Rear Gaozhuang in a dingy little hut. His neighbors said he could have built his family a decent new house if he had not squandered so much on liquor and cigarettes. In a solitary tiny hut lived an eighteen-year-old lad nicknamed Xiao Wubao, Little Five Guarantees, because he had been guaranteed food, clothing, and other necessities by the production team since he was orphaned in the great famine of 1960 that had wiped out half of the village.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 4621-4624. Accessed: 1/6/2020
Our next-door neighbor was the elderly lecturer of classical Chinese literature, Shen the Blind, who had been given a five-year sentence at a public trial in Wujiang a few months before. It had turned out the trial and the sentence was just part of a war of nerves to break him. But the obdurate man really had nothing to confess, and those in power refused to admit they had been wrong. So he was also awaiting repatriation to his hometown of Huaining County in southern Anhui. As his wife was long since dead and they had no children, a niece of his had to come all the way from the southwestern province of Guizhou to escort the blind uncle back to his hometown in disgrace and destitution. Since the public toilet was at the end of the hall, the blind old man had to pass our room to get to it. More than once he groped into our open door. On another occasion, his cane upset the pot of milk I was heating for Yimao on our neighbor’s briquet stove. When he learned who I was, he said Ningkun had been kind to him and he wished him better luck. “Things will get better for you too, Teacher Shen,” I tried to comfort him. “Me? My life is not worth living anymore,” he said bitterly. ‘I’m going back to my roots to die. There will be no more torture and anguish for me.” I turned away from his empty eye sockets of despair under his straggling gray hair. I thought, he must know the lines “No means to live, going back poor to his native place / Yet difficult to die, lying sick in a strange land.” I learned much later he had died of internal injuries shortly after he was repatriated.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 4910-4921. Accessed: 1/7/2020
At the height of the national campaign to learn from the model production brigade of Dazhai in Shanxi province, I was sent up onto the tile roof of the Sun family's new house to paint on it five giant Chinese characters in white: IN AGRICULTURE LEARN FROM DAZHAI. During another political campaign, the brigade party secretary, Song Xianjin, ordered me to spend a whole day in his home village applying my calligraphy to the mud-brick walls of the better houses. In addition to learning from Dazhai, the peasants were exhorted to rearrange the mountains and rivers, build the communist paradise ON earth, and so on. The villagers did not seem impressed by the heroic slogans, probably because most of them were not literate enough to know the characters. For my trouble I was given a free lunch of rice and boiled cabbage at a peasant home. During lunch, my gray-haired host thanked me for making their houses look nice with my calligraphy and pointed to his grandson's report card prominently displayed on the wall. ‘‘Look, my grandson done well at the school. He's only ten, but knows more characters than the party secretary,” said the grandfather proudly. I was amused to find that his grades for three of the five subjects were F, written in red ink; but of course red always meant “double happiness” to the old man.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 5072-5081. Accessed: 1/7/2020
We were upset by the petty thefts, mainly because they killed the joy in our children's life. We collected enough eggs from the remaining hens and bought vegetables from our neighbors. We even felt mollified when Lao Penghai unexpectedly returned our single bed to replace Yiding’s makeshift mud-brick bed. When we thanked him, he said, “No problem. Lao Li is my sister. And this is your bed.” Once he was gone, Sharp- nozzled Pigling dropped in and remarked, “So you have your bed back, Aunt Li. Do you know why?” “It’s our bed. Your uncle borrowed it from us,” Yikai said. The boy, who was much wiser than his age, said with a grin, “I know, I know. But it's really because my cousin Greater Flood had a new bed made for him. With your wood, Aunt Li.” We were incredulous. Sharp nozzled Pigling went on: “Come with me. I’ll show you something in the public room.” We followed him into Yikai’s former home and came upon a new plow, a new harrow, and a new dipper-shaped wooden container. “What’s that for?” I asked. Our young guide answered, “That’s what the families steam sweet rice in, come the Lunar New Year. All these were also made with Aunt Li’s wood.” Dismayed, Yikai turned to me. “This is impossible. The wood is government property, given me for the explicit purpose of building our house. I'll be held accountable.” Sharp-nozzled Pigling added, “One whole log was left over. It’s lying under my uncle's bed. He said it's just what he needed to make furniture for Greater Flood when he gets married.”
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 5149-5159. Accessed: 1/8/2020
In addition to the agricultural tax paid in grain, the peasants provided labor and brought their own tools and food when the highway needed repair or a river needed dredging or a flood had to be fought. Troublemakers, usually younger peasants who disobeyed the team leader or spoke out against a brigade decision, would be punished with doing unpaid labor for the brigade. When the peasants heard over the loudspeaker, “So-and-So report to the brigade in the morning for a day’s labor. Bring tools and food,” they would take the lesson to heart and remember their place in the socialist countryside. Good boys would be selected annually to join the ranks of recruits for the armed forces, with the prospect of being given a paid job in the commune headquarters or the county seat if they came back alive. Xiao Wubao, the orphan of the village, was awarded that good fortune and sent to the Vietnam front because he never disobeyed orders and always worked hard. He had another advantage over the other young men of his age: there would be no one to worry about h(s safety on the battlefield or mourn his death if he got killed.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 5272-5280. Accessed: 1/8/2020
Granny Sun was a different type. She was busy all day long, tending the cow, cooking for the family, and looking after the two little grandchildren. Her gray hair straggling over her mournful waxen face plowed with wrinkles, she moved about barefooted, rain or shine, summer or winter. As she really had little time to spend with the grandchildren, Little Rabbit, now four years old, served as her baby brother’s sitter. Yimao used to go over and play with Little Rabbit. One day, when Yimao came home from school for lunch and heard that Little Rabbit was in bed with a fever, she went into their dark central room to see her. A minute later, she dashed out and cried in a frightened voice, “Come quick, Granny Sun, Granny Sun! I pushed Little Rabbit, she didn't move!” The grandmother rushed inside and came out a few moments later, holding the dead child in her arms. ‘‘My poor, poor Little Rabbit,” she cried and wailed till the child’s parents ran home across the fields. Jisheng, the father, made a little coffin with thin boards, and the child was buried the same day. They never bothered to find out what the little girl had died of.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 5330-5338. Accessed: 1/8/2020
Just then, an announcement from the Central Broadcasting Station came over the loudspeaker outside, saying there would be a release of important news at four p.m. The announcement was repeated in a subdued voice every few minutes, with funeral music in the background. “This is most unusual,” I said to myself. “Oh, oh, the old man has kicked off! That must be it.” At four sharp, the death of Mao made world news. It was September 9, 1976. A week of national mourning was proclaimed. The papers were filled with encomiums for the dead, and everyone sported a black armband. All recreational activities were banned. A former landlord in town who was accused of celebrating the event at home with a good dinner and wine was summarily given a three-year sentence. A clerk in our department had to make a public self-criticism when he was caught playing a game of Chinese chess with his son at home. Like everybody else I wore a black armband and attended sundry memorial activities. Like everybody else too, I wondered “What now?”
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 5685-5693. Accessed: 1/8/2020
Thus my niece was able to meet her uncle after all, for the first time, in her mid-thirties, years after her mother, my sister, had passed away. When the university learned of her projected visit, the housing office got busy moving me out of the church building so that my overseas relatives would not get the wrong impression of how senior intellectuals were treated in Communist China. The party hacks, who still looked upon ex- rightists as the ‘‘stinking ninth category” at its worst, reluctantly gave me a two-room apartment in a college residential building, I was not to move in till the evening when my relatives' arrival the next day was confirmed and the former occupants began to move out. Actually, we were not able to move in till the next day, because we had to clear out the rubbish and clean the floor and the windows first. The walls looked terrible, with plaster peeling off here and there, and the kitchen walls were smeared black with soot. In the morning, to cope with the political task of emergency cosmetics, the housing office sent over a young temporary worker with a broom and a pail of lime-wash to give the walls a quick going over. Yiding, home from his village by coincidence, moved over our large pieces of furniture on a flatbed cart, leaving behind the sundry junk for another day. Master Worker Xia of the department came and handed me thirty yuan, which Secretary Wei had approved as a raise in my monthly pay, to make up for what the radicals at Anhui University had struck off at the time of my reassignment. The young master worker, an obliging newly demobilized soldier, also went to the Iron Hill Hotel to buy, for the entertainment of my guests, two cartons of the deluxe Da Zhonghua (‘‘Great China”) cigarettes and two bottles of brand liquor, neither of which were available in the market. As it turned out, my relatives neither smoked nor drank, and the goodies went to the people who had helped with the reception.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 5803-5816. Accessed: 1/10/2020
WITH DENG XIAOPING AND HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF OTHER CADRES AT different levels of the party, the government, and the army leadership reinstated, the rehabilitation of the half a million rightists of 1957 loomed large on the party’s political agenda, which called for national unity and stability. Deng, who had directed the Anti-Rightist campaign, now endorsed “correcting the verdict” passed on most of the former rightists, yet still maintained that the campaign itself was correct and necessary because there were genuine rightists seeking to overthrow the Communist rule. To catch half a dozen “genuine rightists,” the great, glorious, and correct party had not scrupled to net half a million innocent intellectuals and their families for a devastating ordeal of twenty-two years. To show that the former rightists were not altogether blameless in getting condemned as such, the ruling party now refused to compensate the victims for their financial losses due to punitive cuts in their wages.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 5831-5837. Accessed: 1/10/2020
One former teacher, a man in his late forties, returned for rehabilitation from the village to which he had been banished. As he exited the administration building after receiving his rehabilitation papers, the man dashed his head against the wall. When people rushed over to take the bleeding man to the college clinic, he said, “They ruined my life for nothing, and now expect me to be grateful to them for then pretended benevolence? No way! My blood is on their hands, on their hypocritical facade! I don’t want these damned papers, but I have to clear my family of guilt by association, or the curse would be on them forever and ever.”
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 5840-5844. Accessed: 1/10/2020
While in Beijing, I read in the papers that Dr. T. D. Lee was in town again on a lecture tour in his motherland. Recalling how he had seen me off before my homebound ocean liner set sail in 1951 and how a Christmas card from the Nobel Prize winner in 1974 had raised eyebrows in Wuhu, I thought it might be interesting to see him now when our paths crossed again, twenty-eight years later. Through a “back door,” I found his phone number at Beijing Hotel, which was the state guest house at the time and called him. I was flattered that he still remembered me. He suggested a meeting over the weekend, but I was leaving town the same afternoon. He was busy preparing his lectures, so we settled for a fifteen-minute chat in his hotel suite. Six years my junior, T.D. had been the youngest in our group of Chinese graduate students at the University of Chicago in the late 1940s; we used to call him Kid Brother. Now in his early fifties, the Nobel Prize winner still looked young, with a baby face and smooth skin, though visibly balding. We faced each other in two big armchairs across a tea table. As I briefly answered his questions (I did not want to outstay my welcome) about what I was in Beijing for and what I and some of our mutual friends had been through over the years, he showed no signs of strong interest or emotion. Dignified and self-assured, he looked the eminent scientist and scholar par excellence. I quickly sensed we were living in two different worlds, across an unbridgeable gap. Staying behind in America, he was able to reap successes and honors and live a happy life in security and affluence. Returning to China, I struggled through trials and tribulations and barely made it to this day of rehabilitation. Secure in the “imperialist fortress of America,” he was hailed as a patriot in Communist China, feted by every top leader of the party and the government’ and whisked about in a chauffeur-driven Red Flag limousine as an honored guest of the state. Recalled to serve the motherland, I was denounced as an enemy of the people and had survived labor camps, starvation, and proletarian dictatorship. Even while we were chatting, my ribs ached from the jabs they had received from robust young men of the generation of Red Terror, who had ruthlessly elbowed their way onto the bus to the hotel. An amusing thought flashed through my mind: what would have happened if I had been the one to see him off back to China on that July afternoon in San Francisco? Would I perhaps be sitting in his armchair and he in mine? Oh, no, I decided right there and then, I would never have exchanged my bitter cup of lifetime reeducation for the salutatory toasts from the masters of proletarian dictatorship. No, I would not sit in his armchair and, God forbid he should ever have been in my accursed shoes.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 5862-5881. Accessed: 1/10/2020
Some former colleagues dropped in to greet us. Xu Zhiwen, a professor of French and one of my former drinking companions, barged in and burst out in his Cantonese Mandarin, ‘‘Lao Wu, I come to apologize to you for the awful things I said against you at the criticism and struggle meetings. I was surprised that he of all people should have had anything on his conscience. ‘‘Lao Xu, you don’t rate,” I said, clasping his hand in mine. ‘‘I never remembered anything you said, I never associated you with my denunciation. Everybody had to speak up, and you were no exception. I don't hold anything against any individual, least of all you. Perhaps we were all actors in a tragedy of the times. Everyone had to play his part. In any case, I survived.”
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 5931-5936. Accessed: 1/10/2020
On the last day of the conference, the participants were organized into three groups to engage in discussions in separate areas. I opted for the literary theory group, with dozens of people crowded into one room. The meeting was presided over by Professor Feng Zhi himself. The discussion was not particularly stimulating until a middle-aged man, introduced as the director of the department of theory of art and literature at the Ministry of Culture, took the floor. He began rather jovially by telling an anecdote about his teenage son saying to him, “Daddy, forget your Marxism-Leninism. It’s passé. Nobody is interested in that anymore. People need something new.” We all laughed. He changed his tone of voice and went on to say that his son was misled by a wrong trend of the day, which he accounted for as a reaction to the Cultural Revolution. But it was time to reverse the trend. He concluded authoritatively, “We must persevere in the Marxist-Leninist stand, viewpoint, and method in our theory of art and literature.” It was customary to dismiss a meeting after a cadre in authority had made his summing-up remarks. The director’s speech was obviously intended to be just that. It was time for us to disperse and enjoy the farewell banquet. Should I let him go at that or not? Was it my business to confront this man in authority, when there were many others around me better qualified? It was a split-second decision. I raised my hand and asked tentatively, “May I say a few words now, Professor Feng?” Taken by surprise, the chairman reluctantly invited me to speak. I also began jovially by referring back to the anecdote the director had told about his son. “Comrade Director, I’m glad you didn't give your boy a good beating, because I have a feeling he was right.” There was laughter. I went on to say I had no objection against Marxist stand, viewpoint, and method, nor could I say I was for it, simply because I didn’t know exactly what it was in spite of years of political study. And I was not sure how many people knew exactly what it was. It seemed to have been changing constantly over the years with every shift in the political wind. Furthermore, with so many sovereign Communist parties in the world today, there were an equal number of “true Marxist-Leninists.” I put a question to him: “Which party’s Marxism is the true 'true Marxism-Leninism/ Comrade Director?” As he made no answer, I continued. ‘‘After years of confusion, after the ten-year-long catastrophe inflicted on the nation by a gang of self-styled Marxist-Leninists, how can one persevere in Marxism-Leninism before he studies it in all humility and honesty and finds out exactly what it is?” Then I turned to the question of modernist literature. “The same applies to the issue of modernist literature”‘ I said. ‘‘How many people in China, or even in this room, are familiar with modernist literature? How can anyone put a ban on it before the people have a chance to read it and make up their own minds about it? Read before you criticize, not the other way round. The days of self-appointed censors are gone forever, I hope. Our speaker at the plenary session yesterday cited the authority of Lenin in opposing modernist literature against the revolution. Lenin’s article was written before the October Revolution. The spread of modernist literature might have alarmed him as a detriment to the cause of the Bolshevik revolution, but the opposition between modernist literature and the revolution in post-Cultural Revolution China can only be a figment of political imagination. As to Zhdanov, I am glad he has long been dead. If the choice is imposed on me, however, I would certainly opt for a free literature, not an enslaving revolution!”
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 6025-6051. Accessed: 1/10/2020
Dr. Lucy Chao was the only English professor who had survived, but her husband, Chen Mengjia, the archaeologist of international fame, succeeded in his second attempt at suicide when Lucy failed to come to his rescue because of her own schizophrenic relapse. He was not quite sixty.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 6120-6122. Accessed: 1/10/2020
The one who really made news at the university was my former student Wang Chongde, who had led his classmates on that memorable midnight raid on my rooms on June 6, 1966. His good class origin and radical activism earned him the trust of the party and the Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Team leaders. Upon graduation he was assigned with the highest political recommendations to the top-secret intelligence department of the Headquarters of the General Staff. Later, while serving as an assistant to the military attaché at the Chinese embassy in an African country, he secretly sent the host government a request for political asylum. Dependent on Chinese economic aid for its survival, the host government understandably turned the secret communication over to the Chinese embassy. Recalled home under escort on a Swissair flight, the defector actually managed to smuggle a message to the captain, under the eyes of his four fellow officers, pleading to the Swiss government for political asylum. When the plane landed in Geneva, Swiss security officers came aboard and took charge of the asylum-seeker, who had hidden in a lavatory. As the Swiss government found no use for his “expertise” and no other government would accept him, the former Guard leader became a refugee roaming the streets of Geneva year after year.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 6199-6208. Accessed: 1/10/2020
Both Darkie and Lesser Flood were happily married and beginning to have their second child despite the ‘‘one child” policy, but Jigui's fate was a different story. “The Loony unexpectedly rose to fame and wealth,” Dr. Lu wrote. “One day, while dashing across the highway, he was run over by a truck and taken to the county hospital for treatment. Driven back in the same truck three days later, we saw he had lost his left leg and now hopped about on crutches. His mother was heartbroken and wailed like a madwoman. His father cook it rather philosophically, saying it was a case of ‘evil rewarded with evil. When the truck driver offered him compensation of three hundred yuan, he went dizzy with joy and decided it was ‘good rewarded with good” because he had spared Jigui's life a few years back. Three hundred yuan! An incredible astronomical sum! Compensation for a water buffalo killed is twelve hundred yuan, for an able-bodied adult killed one thousand yuan. The good-for-nothing Loony traded his evil leg for three hundred yuan! How could the father not rejoice! Now permanently disabled, Loony will not be able to go places and make trouble. He can stay home and feed the water buffalo. The money was just what the father needed to pay the bride-price for Little Egg's future wife,” Yikai was outraged but helpless. A few months later, Dr. Lu sent a follow-up on Jigui. “Jigui often hops to the hospital on his one leg and two crutches to have me treat infections on the surgery site. He seems to be a more sensible boy than before. I asked him, Jigui, you made three hundred yuan. Don’t you want to buy an artificial leg with the money?’ His answer was, ‘What do I want an artificial leg for, Dr. Lu? Stop making fun of me. It would be good money wasted. Bride-price for Little Egg is serious business.’ He has made me ponder whether the accident, the amputation, and the suffering have given him a sort of shock therapy that drove the mad demon out of him. I will need to follow him up more closely.” Another update: “After his hospital visit, Jigui will often hop to the market and sit next to the young coal miner who had lost one of his legs in an accident in the local pit with no safety precautions. Jigui was delighted when his fellow suffer once treated him to 3 cup of tea and a packet of roast peanuts, like a child who had never been given a toy before. The two occasionally play a game of Chinese chess. Jigui went mad with joy when he actually beat the coal miner once. ‘I had good teachers in Yicun and Li Nong” he said proudly.” I could easily imagine Jigui and the coal miner sitting next to each other, crutches by their side, a somber personification of the “alliance between the working class and the peasantry,” which presumably provides the power base of the New China.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 6227-6247. Accessed: 1/10/2020
I once summed up my thirty years of a “cow demon’s” life in a simple formula: I came, I suffered, I survived. But there was surely more to it. The protracted suffering was by no means mere passive endurance, but a life-sustaining gift. Suffering runs like an unbroken thread through the drama of life and history. It is perhaps precisely because suffering occupies a supreme place in one's life that a great drama like Hamlet or a great poem by Du Fu ennobles us with the tragic grandeur of life. Each suffers and learns in his own way, but no one suffers in vain. Perhaps we have grown a little wiser, like Jigui the Loony; perhaps we have grown humbler in the face of so much poverty and suffering among the peasants; perhaps we have drawn strength from their unspoken faith in life and evergreen hope for the future. Perhaps, even as a cow that grazes on grass requites its sustenance with life-sustaining milk, a “cow demon” chat grazes on weeds of bitterness can likewise requite his sustenance.
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 6258-6265. Accessed: 1/10/2020
The explosion at Tiananmen Square during the spring of 1989 was as inevitable as the crackdown that followed. The use of wanton brutal force, which outraged the nation and the world, was not the mistaken choice in a moment of passion, but followed the inexorable logic of the escalation of violent political campaigns over die four decades of proletarian dictatorship, as mirrored in our single tear. Hundreds fell in the bloodbath, but millions of demonstrators throughout the land gave voice to a new awakening of the nation. The tanks and machineguns might have carried the day, but China can never, never be the same again. Hundreds of those who demonstrated for freedom and democracy at Tiananmen Square were thrown into the same detention center at Half-Step Bridge where I had been incarcerated thirty-one years before. A newer China is yet to appear, but appear it will, in the not-too-distant future, with a new heaven and a new earth!
Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear. Kindle Edition. loc. 6277-6283. Accessed: 1/10/2020