Life and Death in Shanghai

Life and Death in Shanghai

I decided not to apply for a travel permit to Hong Kong and risk a refusal. A refusal would go into the personal dossier that the police kept on everyone. It might make future application difficult. So I remained in Shanghai, believing the Cultural Revolution would last no longer than a year, the usual length of time for a political campaign.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 115-18. Accessed: 3/30/2013

In 1949, not long after the Communist army entered Shanghai, the new policeman in charge of the area in which I lived had made the first of his periodic unannounced visits to our house. He brushed past Lao-zhao at the front door, marched straight into the living room, where I was, and spat on the carpet. That was the first time I saw a declaration of power made in a gesture of rudeness. Since then, I had come to realize that the junior officers of the Party often used the exaggerated gesture of rudeness to cover up their feeling of inferiority.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 149-53. Accessed: 3/30/2013

At my last meeting with the Shell union chairman, he had said to me, “Everybody is extremely pleased at the prospect of being freed from the anomalous position of working for a foreign firm. They all look forward to making a contribution to socialism as workers of a government organization.” That was the official line, in which even the union chairman himself could not possibly have believed.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 195-98. Accessed: 3/30/2013

One could no longer assess a man’s station in life by his clothes in China because everybody tried to dress like a proletarian, a word the Chinese translated as wuchanzhe, which meant “a man with no property.” To look poor was both safe and fashionable for the Chinese people.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 208-10. Accessed: 3/30/2013

We all know these firms were agents of the imperialists, who hoped to continue their exploitation of the Chinese people. We could not tolerate this state of affairs, so we have closed their doors and thrown out the foreigners. Most of the Chinese on their staffs have been contaminated, and their way of thinking is confused. But we must also recognize the fact that some of them are downright reactionaries. It’s our job to implement our Great Leader Chairman Mao’s policy of educating and reforming them. For several months we have conducted political indoctrination classes for them. But no one can be reformed if he himself does not come face to face with reality and recognize and admit the facts of his own mistakes. Self-criticism and confession are the first steps towards reform. In order to make a real effort at self-criticism, a man must be helped by the criticism of others.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 222-28. Accessed: 3/30/2013

“Capitalism and socialism are like fire and water. They are diametrically opposed. Tao Feng could not have served the interests of the British firm and remained a good Chinese citizen under socialism. For a long time we have tried to help him see the light …”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 231-33. Accessed: 3/30/2013

To him Tao’s mistakes were made not because he was a greedy man with little self-control but because he had worked for a firm that belonged to a nation guilty of acts of aggression against the Chinese people more than a hundred years ago. He was talking about the Opium War of 1839–42 as if it had taken place only the year before.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 263-65. Accessed: 3/30/2013

A Party official, no matter how lowly his rank, was a representative of the Party. When he spoke, it was the Party speaking.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 268. Accessed: 3/30/2013

During the Cultural Revolution it was applied to all the so-called nine categories of enemies: former landlords denounced in the Land Reform Movement of 1950–52; rich peasants denounced in the Formation of Rural Cooperatives Movement of 1955; counterrevolutionaries denounced in the Suppression of Counterrevolutionaries Campaign of 1950 and Elimination of Counterrevolutionaries Campaign of 1955; “bad elements” arrested from time to time since the Communist Party came to power; rightists denounced in the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957; traitors (Party officials suspected of having betrayed Party secrets during imprisonment by the Kuomintang); spies (men and women with foreign connections); “capitalist-roaders” (Party officials not following the strict leftist policy of Mao but taking the “capitalist road”); and intellectuals with bourgeois family origins.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 291-97. Accessed: 3/30/2013

The only source of information for Chinese intellectuals about the Chinese Communist Party before 1949 had been the glowing accounts written by some Western journalists and writers who made fleeting visits to the Communist-held area of China. Most of these men were liberal idealists. They were impressed by the austerity, discipline, and singleness of purpose of the Communist leaders, but they did not have a deep understanding of either the character of these men or the philosophy that motivated them. When the Communist Party intensified its propaganda effort through its underground in Kuomintang-governed cities prior to the final military push to take over the country, its promises of peaceful national reconstruction, of a united front including all sections of Chinese society, and of a democratic form of government sounded an attractive alternative to the corrupt and ineffectual rule of the Kuomintang. And the Chinese intellectuals accepted the propaganda effort as a sincere and honest declaration of policy by the Chinese Communist Party.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 432-39. Accessed: 3/30/2013

In the following year, Mao Zedong, anxious to put all universities under Party control, initiated the Thought Reform Movement. Winnie and Henry had their first rude awakening. Although they both survived this campaign more or less unscathed, they suffered the humiliating experience of having to make self-criticism of their family background, their education abroad, and their outlook on life as reflected in Henry’s architectural designs and in their teaching methods. Repeatedly they had to write their life histories critically; each time, the Party representative demanded a more self-searching effort. At the end of their grueling and degrading experience, Henry was judged unfit to continue as dean of the architectural department, which was now to use exclusively Soviet materials for teaching. Both Chinese traditional work and architectural designs from the West were scorned as feudalistic and decadent.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 441-47. Accessed: 3/30/2013

After the Thought Reform Movement was concluded in 1951, Party secretaries were appointed to every level of university administration. They controlled every aspect of the life and work of the teaching staff, even though the majority of them had little education and had never been teachers. Henry and Winnie lived in premises assigned to them, accepted the salary given to them, did their work in the way the Party secretaries wanted. These two well-educated, lively, and imaginative young people, full of goodwill towards the Communist regime, were reduced by Mao Zedong’s suspicion and abuse of the intellectuals to teaching machines. But they were the fortunate ones. Many others from universities all over China did not fare as well. Some were sent to labor camps, while others were thrown out of the universities altogether.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 447-53. Accessed: 3/30/2013

In 1956 Mao Zedong launched the campaign “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom and Let a Hundred Schools of Thought Contend.” The Party secretaries in every organization, and even Mao himself, urged the people to offer frank and constructive criticism of the Communist Party. Believing the Party sincere in wishing to improve its work, tens of thousands of intellectuals and more than a million Chinese in every walk of life poured out their grievances and suggestions.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 457-60. Accessed: 3/30/2013

Mao Zedong swung his policy around in 1957 and initiated the Anti-Rightist Campaign. He labeled all those who had offered criticism “Rightists.” Many of them lost their jobs, became nonper-sons, and were sent to labor camps; others had their pay reduced and were demoted in rank. The treachery of Mao Zedong in repeatedly inviting frank and constructive criticism and then harshly punishing those who gave it completely cowed the Chinese intellectuals, so that China’s cultural life came to a virtual standstill.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 461-64. Accessed: 3/30/2013

This kind of discrimination followed her in everything she tried to do. Whenever she encountered it, she was made to feel guilty and ashamed of her family background. She, and other children like her, just had to try harder than the children of workers and peasants. They learned from an early age that the “classless” society of Communism was more rigidly stratified than the despised capitalist system, where a man could move from the lower to the upper class by his own effort. Because my daughter had to try harder, she did well. In the prestigious No. 2 Municipal Girls’ Middle School, she was a student leader and won honors and prizes. She seemed happily adjusted and had many friends, among them several children from working-class families. Although she was by nature loving and generous, I thought it was mainly the feeling of guilt instilled in her by Communist propaganda about the rich exploiting the poor that created in her the desire to help these children. She would bring them home to share her food, help them with their studies, and even go to their homes sometimes to assist them with their chores. While I thought her activities rather commendable, Chen-ma disapproved heartily, especially when she loaned her clothes to other girls and then brought home the dirty laundry for Chen-ma to wash.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 577-86. Accessed: 3/30/2013

“But do you really want to be a film actress?” I asked her. “I don’t mind. I can do it. It isn’t hard.” This was her standard response to any problem. “I’m sure you can do it. But do you want to?” I believed this to be an important point. To be happy one should do the job one wants to do. “Well, I never think of what I really want to do. It’s no use thinking that way when I know the government is going to assign me a job. Thinking about what I really want to do only leads to disappointment. None of my friends think that way either,” she said. “I’ll just enjoy doing whatever the government wants me to do. If I try hard enough to do a job well, I generally end up liking it.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 609-15. Accessed: 3/30/2013

The acting profession was somewhat glamorous even in Communist China, but those who worked in it did not receive higher pay or enjoy better working conditions than factory workers or teachers of the same age group. The function of an actress was primarily to bring entertainment to the masses, so besides appearing in films, she often gave performances in factories, rural communes, coal mines, and oilfields, traveling far and wide with her unit all over China. It was an arduous life. But she thought her experience enriched her understanding and knowledge of her own country and its people, and believed she was rendering service to them by giving them entertainment. For her, that was a meaningful way of life.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 624-29. Accessed: 3/30/2013

“I spent the whole day writing Big Character Posters for the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. We were told that the more Big Character Posters one writes, the more revolutionary enthusiasm one demonstrates, so everybody wrote and wrote until the notice board and all the wall space in our section were completely covered.” “Was that why you didn’t come home for dinner?” “We gave up having lunch and dinner to show our revolutionary zeal. Actually everyone was hungry, but nobody wanted to be the first to leave.” “What did you write about?” “Oh, slogans and denunciations against those who had been labeled ‘cow’s demon and snake spirit,’ and all China’s enemies such as Taiwan, Japan, Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union.” “How do you know what to write? Do you make things up?” “Some people do. But I think that’s too dangerous. Most of us get materials from our section leader. I concentrate on enemy countries. The section leader allows me to because she thinks I know more about other countries since I was born abroad. I don’t want to write about individuals. I don’t know much about the life of any of the denounced people, and I don’t want to lie and insinuate. The older actresses, actors, directors, and scriptwriters have to write their own self-criticism. A lot of them are being denounced. From time to time, they are led out by the activists to be struggled against at struggle meetings or just to stand or kneel in the sun with their heads bowed.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 630-43. Accessed: 3/30/2013

“Yes, it’s terrible. I’m sorry for them. I heard that most of them are Jiang Qing’s enemies from the old days. I heard that Chairman Mao has given his wife Jiang Qing full power to deal with everybody in the field of art,” my daughter said. “Hasn’t she been putting on modern Beijing operas?” “Yes, it seems she has been in disagreement with the leaders in the Cultural Department for some time. In any case, I heard that the actresses who got better parts than she did in the old days when she was an actress in Shanghai have all packed their bags in preparation for going to labor camps. It’s said she is very cruel and jealous. But it’s best not to talk about her at all.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 644-50. Accessed: 3/30/2013

“Surely that’s farfetched. She is the number one lady of China now. Why should she care about a few old actresses?” “Perhaps they know too much about her past life. They say that before she went to Yanan and married Chairman Mao, she had a lot of lovers and even several husbands.” “Chairman Mao had several wives too. Why shouldn’t she have had several husbands? She sounds like a proper Hollywood film star,” I laughed. “You have been brought up in China, so you have a puritanical outlook on such matters. Tell me, how about yourself? Are you likely to get criticized?” “Mommy, don’t be silly. I’m not important enough. I’m just one of the masses. Of course, my family background and my birth abroad might get criticized. Wasn’t it lucky I was born in Australia rather than in the United States or Britain?”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 650-57. Accessed: 3/30/2013

It was later revealed that early in August, at a Central Committee meeting, Mao had written a Big Character Poster entitled “Fire Cannonballs at the Headquarters.” In it he made the extraordinary accusation that the government administration (headed by Liu Shaoqi as chairman of the People’s Republic) and the Party Secretariat (headed by Deng Xiaoping as chief party secretary) were the headquarters of China’s capitalist class because, he said, their policies protected and served the interests of the capitalist class. This was a very serious and shocking charge against the entire Party apparatus and the administrative organization of Communist China. Mao was able to make the accusation against Liu and Deng because he controlled the armed forces through his protégé Lin Biao, who was the defense minister.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 693-99. Accessed: 3/30/2013

Perhaps Liu Shaoqi believed he could save Mao’s face by such an admission. The fact remained that Liu Shaoqi’s economic policy rescued China from economic collapse after the disastrous failure of Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward Campaign in 1958–60. However, Liu’s admission of guilt was to prove a tactical mistake. It placed him at a great disadvantage and opened the way for the Maoists to escalate their attack against him and his followers in the government.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 701-4. Accessed: 3/30/2013

“Whether I did or said anything incorrect or not, I know for a certainty that I never did anything against the People’s Government,” I said firmly. “That’s for us to judge. At least you now admit the possibility that you might have done or said something that was incorrect,” he said with a smile. “Nonsense! I admitted no such thing!” I said.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 791-94. Accessed: 3/30/2013

Now he changed the subject, saying, “Give a résumé of the activities of your office.” I gave a brief account of our work at the office. When I had finished speaking, the man said, “What you have just told us is almost exactly what you have already written. I believe you took the trouble to memorize what you had written. Why this precaution?” “What I have told you and what I have written are just the same because facts are the same, no matter how many times you talk about them,” I said.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 796-800. Accessed: 3/30/2013

This interview seemed to have gone on a long time already. I thought of Mr. Hu waiting for me, so I looked at my watch. “Are you in a hurry to be gone? Perhaps you find this conversation uncomfortable?” The man was enjoying himself, twisting words and situation to suit his purpose. “I just think you are wasting your time,” I said. “We are not afraid to waste time. We’re patient. It took us, the Communist Party, twenty-two years to overthrow the Kuomintang government. But we succeeded in the end. When we set out to achieve our goal, we pursue it to the end.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 800-805. Accessed: 3/30/2013

He shouted, “We won’t let you get away with it! You must provide us with a list of the things you did and said that were wrong, in order to show your sincerity in changing your standpoint. Otherwise, the consequences for you will be serious. We know for a certainty you are a spy for the British!”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 806-8. Accessed: 3/30/2013

I laughed at his outburst and said calmly, “You are quite wrong. I am no more a spy for anybody than you are.” The new man said quickly, “Perhaps there are things you did or said that you don’t remember offhand. Why don’t you go home and think about it? Write down everything you did and said, no matter how trivial or insignificant. We will give you plenty of time. What about two weeks?” “Two years will make no difference. I don’t intend to make up any story,” I told them. “Well, let’s say two weeks. It’s painful to admit mistakes. But it has to be done. Our Great Leader compared confession to having an operation. The operation is painful, but only after it is done can one become a new man. You want to be a good citizen of our socialist state, don’t you? Then you mustn’t lag behind the others. We want you to confess, not because we don’t know the facts already, but because we wish to give you a chance to show your sincerity.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 811-19. Accessed: 3/30/2013

In each organization three to five percent of the total must be declared the ‘enemy’ because that is the percentage mentioned by Chairman Mao in one of his speeches.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 837-38. Accessed: 3/30/2013

There isn’t really such a high percentage of people who oppose the People’s Government. To fill their quota, the Party officials often include people whom they dislike, such as those who are disgruntled and troublesome, in the list of enemies. But no individual should make a false confession, no matter how great the pressure is.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 839-41. Accessed: 3/30/2013

“There always comes a time when a man almost reaches the end of his endurance and is tempted to write down something, however untrue, to satisfy his inquisitors and to free himself from intolerable pressure. But one mustn’t do it. Party officials will never be satisfied with the confession. Once one starts confessing, they will demand more and more admissions of guilt, however false, and exert increasing pressure to get what they want. In the end, one will get into a tangle of untruths from which one can no longer extract oneself. I have seen it happen to several people.” Mr. Hu was still speaking in the third person and did not say, “You mustn’t.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 846-51. Accessed: 3/30/2013

Mr. Hu got up to leave, asking me to telephone him whenever I wanted to see him to talk things over. As a final piece of advice he said, “Nearly all lower-ranking Communist Party officials suffer from an inferiority complex. Although they have power over us, somehow they have a deep feeling of inferiority. This is unfortunate, because some of them feel they need to reassure themselves by using that power to make our life uncomfortable or to humiliate us. When you are being questioned, be firm but be polite also. Don’t offend them. They can be mean and spiteful. They can also be very cruel.” “It’s not in my nature to be obsequious. But thank you for the warning. I shall remember it,” I said.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 864-69. Accessed: 3/30/2013

The thought that he was now working as an ordinary worker in his own factory appalled me. But he was without bitterness. “It’s not so bad,” he said. “In the Soviet Union, when the Communist Party took over, I believe all the capitalists were shot. I’m still alive, and I’m able to look after all three generations of my family. I asked the Party secretary to assign me to the most unskilled menial job. So now I am just a coolie, pushing drums of raw materials or carting coal. No one can be envious or jealous of a man doing work like that. You know, when I asked him for such a job, the Party secretary seemed to be quite sorry for me. We used to get on well together.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 873-78. Accessed: 3/30/2013

“Keep fit and try to live long. If you live long enough, you might see a change in our country.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 889-90. Accessed: 3/30/2013

“What’s happened, Chen-ma?” I called to her. She was silent but came into the room. “What’s happened at the temple?” I asked her. She sat down on a dining chair and burst into tears. “They are dismantling the temple,” she said between sobs. “Who is dismantling the temple?” I asked her. “Not the government, surely!” “Young people. Probably students. They said Chairman Mao told them to stop superstition. They also said the monks are counterrevolutionaries opposed to Chairman Mao.” “What did the monks do?” “Nothing. The students rounded them up. Some were beaten. When I got there I saw them prostrate on the ground in the courtyard. There was a large crowd of onlookers. One of them told me that the students were going to dismantle the temple and burn the scriptures as they had done at other places. I actually saw some of the students climbing onto the roof and throwing down the tiles,” Chen-ma said while wiping away her tears.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 943-53. Accessed: 3/30/2013

That was the last glimpse I ever had of my dear old friend. A month later, when I was under house arrest, she committed suicide after a particularly humiliating experience. The Red Guards placed a pole across the gate of the conservatory less than four feet from the ground and made Li Zhen crawl under it to demonstrate that she was “a running dog of the British imperialists” because of her education in England. They then held a struggle meeting to compel her to confess her “love for Western music.” She was found dead the next day, seated by her piano, with the gas turned on. The note she left behind held one sentence: “I did my best for my students.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1108-13. Accessed: 3/31/2013

In the days after Mao Zedong reviewed the first group of Red Guards in Beijing and gave them his blessing, the Red Guards in Shanghai took over the streets. The newspaper announced that the mission of the Red Guards was to rid the country of the “Four Olds”: old culture, old customs, old habits, and old ways of thinking. There was no clear definition of “old”; it was left to the Red Guards to decide.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1150-52. Accessed: 3/31/2013

The Red Guards debated whether to reverse the system of traffic lights, as they thought red should mean “go” and not “stop.” In the meantime, the traffic lights stopped operating.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1157-58. Accessed: 3/31/2013

I listened to one group for a little while and was puzzled and surprised to hear the Red Guard speaker telling the people that they would be “liberated” by the Cultural Revolution. Hadn’t the people been liberated already in 1949 when the Communist Party took over China? Was that liberation not good enough, so that the people had to be liberated again? It almost seemed to me that the Communist Party was engaging in self-criticism. But that was unthinkable. I dismissed what I had heard as unimportant, perhaps merely a slip of the tongue by the young speaker.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1183-87. Accessed: 3/31/2013

Suddenly I was startled to see the group of Red Guards right in front of me seize a pretty young woman. While one Red Guard held her, another removed her shoes and a third one cut the legs of her slacks open. The Red Guards were shouting, “Why do you wear shoes with pointed toes? Why do you wear slacks with narrow legs?” “I’m a worker! I’m not a member of the capitalist class! Let me go!” The girl was struggling and protesting. In the struggle, the Red Guards removed her slacks altogether, much to the amusement of the crowd that had gathered to watch the scene. The onlookers were laughing and jeering. One of the Red Guards slapped the girl’s face to stop her from struggling. She sat on the dusty ground and buried her face in her arms. Between sobs she murmured, “I’m not a member of the capitalist class!” One of the Red Guards opened her bag and took out her work pass to examine it. Then he threw the pass and her trousers to her. Hastily she pulled on the trousers. She did not wait for them to give back her shoes but walked away quickly in her socks. Almost immediately the same Red Guard seized a young man and shouted, “Why do you have oiled hair?”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1194-1204. Accessed: 3/31/2013

When Lao-zhao opened the gate for me, I asked about the poster signed by the children. Lao-zhao told me that my neighbor’s servant had told him that it was the father’s idea, to save his children from persecution.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1235-36. Accessed: 3/31/2013

I picked up one of the remaining winecups and cradled it in my palm. Holding my hand out, I said, “This winecup is nearly three hundred years old. You seem to value the cameras, watches, and binoculars, but better cameras, better watches, and more powerful binoculars are being made every year. No one in this world can make another winecup like this one again. This is a part of our cultural heritage. Every Chinese should be proud of it.” The young man whose revolutionary work of destruction I had interrupted said angrily, “You shut up! These things belong to the old culture. They are the useless toys of the feudal emperors and the modern capitalist class and have no significance to us, the proletarian class. They cannot be compared to cameras and binoculars, which are useful for our struggle in time of war. Our Great Leader Chairman Mao taught us, ‘If we do not destroy, we cannot establish.’ The old culture must be destroyed to make way for the new socialist culture.” Another Red Guard said, “The purpose of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is to destroy the old culture. You cannot stop us!”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1352-61. Accessed: 3/31/2013

I quickly turned to him and said, “No, no! Your being in my house has already improved my socialist awareness. It was wrong of me to have kept all these beautiful and valuable things to myself. They rightly belong to the people. I beg you to take them to the Shanghai Museum. You can consult their experts. If the experts advise you to destroy them, there will still be time to do so.” A girl said, “The Shanghai Museum is closed. The experts there are being investigated. Some of them are also class enemies. In any case, they are intellectuals. Our Great Leader has said, ‘The capitalist class is the skin; the intellectuals are the hairs that grow on the skin. When the skin dies, there will be no hair.’ The capitalist class nourishes the intellectuals, so they belong to the same side. Now we are going to destroy the capitalist class. Naturally the intellectuals are to be destroyed too.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1384-91. Accessed: 3/31/2013

You are a stupid class enemy! You simply do not understand. You are arguing and advising us to consult either other class enemies or the revisionist officials of the government. You talk about official policy. The only valid official policy is in this book.” The young man took his book of Mao’s quotations from his pocket and held it up as he continued, “The teachings of our Great Leader Chairman Mao are the only valid official policy.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1394-97. Accessed: 3/31/2013

Changing the direction of my argument, I said, “I saw a placard saying, ‘Long Live World Revolution.’ You are going to carry the red flag of our Great Leader Chairman Mao all over the world, aren’t you?” “Of course we are! What has that got to do with you? You are only a class enemy,” a girl sneered. She turned to the others and warned, “She is a tricky woman. Don’t listen to her nonsense!” Getting really desperate, I said, “Don’t you realize all these things are extremely valuable? They can be sold in Hong Kong for a large sum of money. You will be able to finance your world revolution with that money.” At last, what I said made an impression. The Red Guards were listening. The wonderful prospect of playing a heroic role on the broad world stage was flattering to their egos, especially now that they were getting intoxicated with a sense of power. I seized the psychological moment and went on. “Please put all these porcelain pieces back in their boxes and take them to a safe place. You can sell them or give them to the museum, whatever you consider right, according to the teachings of our Great Leader.” Perhaps, being an older person, the teacher felt some sense of responsibility. She asked me, “Are you sure your collection is valuable? How much would you say it is worth?” “You will find a notebook with the date of purchase and the sum of money I spent on each item. Their price increases every month, especially on the world market. As a rough estimate, I think they are worth at least a million yuan,” I told her.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1398-1411. Accessed: 3/31/2013

I looked at what had happened to my things hopelessly but indifferently. They belonged to a period of my life that had abruptly ended when the Red Guards entered my house. Though I could not see into the future, I refused to look back. I supposed the Red Guards had enjoyed themselves. Is it not true that we all possess some destructive tendencies in our nature? The veneer of civilization is very thin. Underneath lurks the animal in each of us. If I were young and had had a working-class background, if I had been brought up to worship Mao and taught to believe him infallible, would I not have behaved exactly as the Red Guards had done?

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1437-42. Accessed: 3/31/2013

The teacher remained in his seat, contemplating me with a puzzled frown. It seemed to me he saw through my game but did not understand my motive for covering up for the thief. Confucius said, “A compassionate heart is possessed by every human being.” This was no longer true in China, where in a society pledged to materialism, men’s behavior was increasingly motivated by self-interest. The teacher probably thought I hoped to gain favor from the Red Guards.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1490-93. Accessed: 3/31/2013

She looked at the butter and picked up the jar of marmalade with its label in English. Then she leaned forward in her seat and stared at me with her large black eyes blazing. “Why do you have to drink a foreign beverage? Why do you have to eat foreign food? Why do you have so many foreign books? Why are you so foreign altogether? In every room in this house there are imported things, but there is not a single portrait of our beloved Great Leader. We have been to many homes of the capitalist class. Your house is the worst of all, the most reactionary of all. Are you a Chinese, or are you a foreigner?” I smiled at her outburst. My house must have seemed rather different from the others they had looted. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, Lao-zhao did suggest that I hang up a portrait of Mao Zedong. But so many people had the same idea that we couldn’t find a single one in any shop and had to give up. However, I thought I might try to help this pretty girl see things in their proper perspective. “Do you eat tomatoes?” I asked her. “Of course I do!” she said. Tomatoes were common in Shanghai. When the harvest was in, the price dropped to a few cents a catty (a catty being a little over a pound in weight). Every adult and every child in Shanghai ate tomatoes either as fruit or vegetable. “Well, the tomato is a foreign food. It was introduced into China by foreigners. So was the watermelon, brought from Persia over the silk route. As for foreign books, Karl Marx himself was a German. If people didn’t read books by foreigners, there would not have been an international Communist movement. It has never been possible to keep things and ideas locked up within the national boundary of any one country, even in the old days when communication was difficult. Nowadays, it’s even more impossible. I’m pretty sure that by now people all over the world have heard that Chinese high school students are organized as Red Guards.” “Really?” she said and became thoughtful. It was apparent that I had opened a new horizon for her. After a while, she said, “You are good at making things clear. Have you been to a university?” I had a mouthful of toast, so I just nodded. She looked wistful. “I had hoped to go to a university when I finish high school. But now there won’t be any university to go to. All of us young people will have to become soldiers.” “You are a girl. You won’t have to be a soldier.” “It’s much worse for girls!” She sounded depressed. “In any case, there won’t be a war, so you don’t have to worry.” I tried to console her.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1522-44. Accessed: 3/31/2013

Although the boy had already withdrawn, she said in a firm, loud voice, “You are a class enemy. I’m not going to listen to your nonsense.” She turned to leave. But at the door she looked back and gave me a sweet smile. At the sink, the cook said, “Not all of them are young fools!”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1550-53. Accessed: 3/31/2013

“No, not at all,” I said to him. “These Red Guards carried out their revolutionary action strictly according to the teachings of our Great Leader Chairman Mao. I have been allowed to eat and sleep.” The Red Guards standing around us beamed. He declared, “That’s good. It’s not the purpose of the proletarian class to destroy your body. We want to save your soul by reforming your way of thinking.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1569-72. Accessed: 3/31/2013

Although Mao Zedong and his followers were atheists, they were very fond of talking about the “soul.” In his writing, Mao often referred to the saving of a man’s soul. During the Cultural Revolution, “soul” was mentioned frequently. Several times, Defense Minister Lin Biao stood on the balcony of Tiananmen to speak on behalf of Mao Zedong to the Red Guards gathered below about allowing the revolutionary spirit to touch their “souls” in order to improve themselves. While no one could ask Mao Zedong or Lin Biao what exactly they meant when they talked about a man’s “soul,” it greatly taxed the ingenuity of the Marxist writers of newspaper articles who had to explain their leaders’ words to the people.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1572-77. Accessed: 3/31/2013

“Is it right for you and your daughter to live in a house of nine rooms with four bathrooms when there is such a severe housing shortage in Shanghai? Is it right for you to use woolen carpets and have each room filled with rosewood and blackwood furniture when there is a shortage of wood and basic furniture for others? Is it right for you to wear silk and fur and sleep under quilts filled with down? Is it right for you to have three servants to wait on you?”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1578-82. Accessed: 3/31/2013

“As I said a moment ago, it is not our objective to destroy your body. You will be allowed enough clothing and basic furniture to carry on a normal life, but you won’t be allowed to maintain a standard of living above that of the average worker.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1583-84. Accessed: 3/31/2013

“It’s my aunt. During the Japanese invasion, she lost everything when the Japanese soldiers burned her area of Nantao City. She borrowed money to open a fruit stall after the war. She did quite well and made a living for herself and her children, but she gave it up two years ago when she got too old to manage it. Now they say she is a capitalist because she had a private business of her own. Our home is being looted because she is now living with us since her children are not in Shanghai.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1592-96. Accessed: 3/31/2013

“You had better think over the things you did for the foreigners and be ready to change your standpoint to that of the people. It’s not our policy to destroy the physical person of the members of the capitalist class. We want you to reform. Don’t you want to join the ranks of the glorious proletariat? You can do so only after being stripped of your surplus belongings and changing your way of life. It’s the objective of the proletarian revolution to form a classless society in which each individual labors for the common good and enjoys the fruit of that labor, and where no one is above anyone else.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1641-45. Accessed: 3/31/2013

It was an attractive and idealistic picture. I used to believe in it too when I was a student. But after living in Communist China for the past seventeen years, I knew that such a society was only a dream because those who seized power would invariably become the new ruling class. They would have the power to control the people’s lives and bend the people’s will. Because they controlled the production and distribution of goods and services in the name of the state, they would also enjoy material luxuries beyond the reach of the common people. In Communist China, details of the private lives of the leaders were guarded as state secrets. But every Chinese knew that the Party leaders lived in spacious mansions with many servants, obtained their provisions from special shops where luxury goods were made available to their households at nominal prices, and sent their children in chauffeur-driven cars to exclusive schools to be taught by specially selected teachers. Even though every Chinese knew how the leaders lived, no one dared to talk about it. If we had to pass by a special shop for the military or high officials, we carefully looked the other way to avoid giving the impression we knew it was there.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1645-53. Accessed: 3/31/2013

“I’ll never forget how our house looks today, not in a million years,” my daughter said. “It’s always best to look ahead and not backwards. Possessions are not important. Think of those beautiful porcelain pieces I had. Before they came to me, they had all passed through the hands of many people, surviving wars and natural disasters. I got them only because someone else lost them. While I had them, I enjoyed them; now some other people will enjoy them. Life itself is transitory. Possessions are not important.” “I’m glad you are so philosophical,” she said, smiling for the first time since she had come home. “Of course, we must not let our happiness be dependent on possessions. We still have each other. We can be happy together even if we are poor.” “We won’t be poor. I have already told you about the assets abroad. We will always be better off than most others in China. You are worn out. I can see dark shadows under your eyes. You had better try to get some rest.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1742-50. Accessed: 3/31/2013

“His name is Zhang Chunqiao. Someone at our film studio said that he was a journalist in Shanghai in the thirties when Jiang Qing was an actress. Those in the studio who used to know them both are terrified. Some of them have packed their bags in preparation for going to jail. They seem to believe Zhang Chunqiao will put them under detention to prevent them from talking about him and Jiang Qing in the thirties.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1800-1803. Accessed: 3/31/2013

“The old man is now in the hospital. Some say he has died already. The Red Guards are getting quite wild. I think you should take Meiping and try to escape to Hong Kong,” he said. “Do you think Meiping would want to go?” I asked him this question because once when he was at our house, just before I was to make a trip to Hong Kong, both he and my daughter said they would never want to live as second-class citizens in colonial Hong Kong. “The situation is different now. After the Cultural Revolution, young people from non-working-class family backgrounds will have no future in China at all. In the past, if we worked twice as hard as the young people of the working class and expected no advancement, we could have a reasonably happy private life. In the future, we will be like the untouchables in India, whose children and children’s children suffer too. The only way out is to escape. You have many friends abroad. Why don’t you take Meiping and go?” he urged me. “I think it’s too late to escape now. You know the penalty for attempting to escape to Hong Kong is very serious, something like ten or twenty years in prison,” I said. “It’s not too late. I have made some investigations. The whole railway system is in a state of confusion. No one buys a ticket or has a travel permit anymore. Red Guards are going all over the country by just getting on a train. No one asks any questions. I have been to both the station and the wharf. There are no ticket collectors at either place. No one in authority at all.” “I think the moment I got on a train I would be recognized and dragged off or beaten.” “You can both be disguised as Red Guards. I will get you some red cloth for armbands, and I will write the three characters for ‘Red Guard’ for you. I have done quite a few of these for our students,” he said. “I think I’m too old to be taken for a Red Guard.” “All you have to do is to have your hair cut short, take the book of quotations by Chairman Mao in your hand, and pretend to be absorbed in it. You can even wear a cap to cover your hair. If anyone should question you, you can say you are a teacher. As for Meiping, she can easily pass for a Red Guard,” he said impatiently. When I shook my head again, he declared, “You are foolish not to try. In any case, talk it over with Meiping when she comes home.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1849-69. Accessed: 3/31/2013

I saw Xiao Xu again in Hong Kong in 1980, when I came out of China. He told me that he was turned back at the border when he tried to reach Hong Kong by train. But later he swam to Macao, and after a few years he got to Hong Kong, where he worked hard and saved money. In 1980 he was the part-owner of a toy factory in Kowloon that exported toys to many parts of the world. Since conditions in China had changed for the better after Mao died, he was thinking of making a trip to Shanghai to visit his mother.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1870-73. Accessed: 3/31/2013

“Are you the class enemy of this house? How well fed you look! Your cheeks are smooth and your eyes are bold. You have been fattened by the blood and toil of the peasants and workers. But now things are going to be different! You’ll have to pay for your criminal deeds! Come with me!”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1877-79. Accessed: 3/31/2013

“Where is the cash?” one of them asked. “The Red Guards who were here before took it.” “Did they take all of it?” “No, they left a few hundred yuan for me to live on.” “Where is it?” “In a drawer in my desk.” The boy kicked my leg as he passed me and went upstairs with the others. The girl with the whip was left to watch me. She swung her whip back and forth in the air, missing my head by a fraction each time. The others came down again with the drawer and tipped the bank notes onto the dining table. They told me to turn around and face the wall. I could hear them counting the notes.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1884-90. Accessed: 3/31/2013

“Why do you keep money abroad anyway? Why should an honest Chinese want to keep money abroad?” “I make trips to Hong Kong and have to pay my food and hotel bills when I am there. I’m not allowed to take my Chinese money with me, as you know. There is foreign exchange control. Each time I go out of China, I am allowed only five U.S. dollars. Besides, I have to bring money into China to buy coal and other things from the Overseas Chinese Store,” I explained. “I have some money abroad, but I have a lot more money in Shanghai. I have this house. I have my only child here. She is worth more than anything in the world to me. She is a member of the Communist Youth League. Why should I oppose the Communist Party and the People’s Government?” “You would oppose the Communist Party even if your daughter were a Party member. It’s your class instinct,” said the man with the tinted glasses, who seemed to be their leader.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 1931-38. Accessed: 3/31/2013

If Lao-zhao happened to be in the kitchen when I went for my meals, a Red Guard would follow me there to make sure we did not converse. But Lao-zhao and the Red Guard would chat with one another. After a while I found that much of what Lao-zhao said was information for my ears also. For instance, one day he said to a Red Guard, “Do you beat up your teachers often?” I was astonished by Lao-zhao’s question, because when the Red Guards came to loot my house on the night of August 30 they seemed quite friendly with their teachers. I waited breathlessly for the answer. The Red Guard said casually, “We beat them up when they are found to have capitalist ideas or when they insist we study and not have so many revolutionary activities. Some of them do not seem to understand the importance of carrying on with the Cultural Revolution. They still believe in the importance of learning from books. But our Great Leader Chairman Mao told us, ‘Learn to swim from swimming.’ We should learn from taking part in revolutionary activities and from active labor. We don’t need the old type of school anymore. Those teachers who still believe in books obviously oppose our Great Leader, so we must treat them as enemies.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2083-92. Accessed: 3/31/2013

Another time, Lao-zhao asked the Red Guard, “Did you go to surround the municipal government building?” “Of course! And this wasn’t the first time or the last time either. The entire Shanghai municipal government is rotten with revisionism.” It was from Lao-zhao’s conversations with the Red Guards and from their handbills and publications that I gained the impression that daily thousands of new revolutionaries were flocking to join the Red Guards and workers’ organizations that had sprung up “like bamboo shoots after the spring rain.” Whether hoping for personal gain or merely fearful of being thought politically backward, people felt compelled to become a part of the Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2093-98. Accessed: 3/31/2013

As the violence escalated and the scope of the Cultural Revolution expanded to include an ever increasing number of class enemies, a new slogan was coined to emphasize the undesirability of children of capitalist families. It said, “A dragon is born of a dragon, a phoenix is born of a phoenix, and a mouse is born with the ability to make a hole in the wall.” In short, since the parents were class enemies, the children would naturally be class enemies too. Though I thought it rather astonishing in a country pledged to materialistic Marxism that a slogan should be based entirely on the importance of genetics, I had no time or heart to dwell on it.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2110-14. Accessed: 3/31/2013

“She is probably a radish: red outside but white within. In any case, the Communist Youth League is disbanded. The general secretary of the Youth League, Hu Yaobang, is a revisionist.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2128-29. Accessed: 3/31/2013

The man with the tinted glasses was quite a fluent speaker. He, too, started with the Opium War, giving a vivid description of how the invading fleet of Britain bombarded the Chinese coast. His account, full of inaccuracies and aimed at creating hatred for me, made me personally guilty for Britain’s action against China over a hundred years ago. He spoke as if it were I who had led the British fleet up the Pearl River. Then he declared that Shell was a multinational firm with branches in all parts of the world. He said that Lenin had stated that such companies were the worst enemies of socialism. He told the audience that from time immemorial, under the pretense of selling kerosene to the peasants, Shell had sent salesmen deep into the rural areas of China to gather information useful to the imperialists. He also gave figures to show the enormous profit the company had made with its China trade and called it the “commercial exploitation of the Chinese people.” He told the audience that the British imperialists were more subtle than the Americans. The United States government openly opposed the People’s Government of China and protected the Kuomintang in Taiwan; the British gave the People’s Government diplomatic recognition while voting with the United States at the United Nations to prevent the People’s Government from taking China’s seat.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2137-47. Accessed: 3/31/2013

He turned to an account of my family background, telling the audience that I was the descendant of a big landlord family that owned 10,000 mou of fertile agricultural land (there are roughly 6 mou to an acre). Unlike the liaison officer of the municipal government who had said my grandfather was a patriot, he now told the audience that my grandfather was a dirty landlord and an advocate of feudalism because in the history books he wrote he praised several emperors. Furthermore, he said, evidence had been found among his papers that he was a founder and shareholder of the Hanyehping Steel Complex, which included the Anyuan coal mine, where the Great Leader Chairman Mao once personally organized the workers in their struggle against the capitalists. This accusation was supposed to give concrete proof that my grandfather and Chairman Mao were on opposing sides; in fact, the two men belonged to two different generations. He went on to say that my father was a senior official of the prewar Beijing government and spent many years in Japan in his youth. He reminded everyone that Japan had been guilty of aggression against China and in eight years of war and occu pation had killed ten million innocent Chinese men, women, and children. Carefully he avoided mentioning that my father went to Japan in the early years of this century, long before the Japanese invasion of China in 1937; instead he tried to create the impression that my father went to Japan in spite of what Japan did to China. Pointing at me, he said that I went to England when I was twenty years old and was trained by the British to be “a faithful running dog” in one of their universities. My late husband was described as a “residue of the decadent Kuomintang regime” who was fortunate to have died and escaped judgment by the Revolutionaries.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2147-60. Accessed: 3/31/2013

Members of the ex-staff of Shell were then called upon to provide further evidence against me. I could easily see how frightened they all were, and I wondered what they must have gone through. The men who got up to speak were white, and their hands holding the prepared statements shook. None of them looked in my direction. There was very little substance in what they said, but every sentence they uttered contributed to the picture that I enjoyed a warm and friendly relationship with the British residents of Shanghai. A web of suspicion was carefully woven. One of the office elevator operators declared that the British manager always stepped aside to let me get into the elevator before him. A driver testified that whenever the manager and I shared a car, the manager always allowed me to get in first. This was supposed to demonstrate my value and importance to the “British imperialists,” because in Communist China a senior man would not dream of letting his female assistant get into a car or an elevator before him.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2166-73. Accessed: 3/31/2013

All the statements were a mixture of fact and fiction, misrepresentation and exaggeration, calculated to mislead the ignorant minds of the gullible and the uninformed.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2180-82. Accessed: 3/31/2013

Suddenly, a girl pushed her way to the front and called in an agitated voice, “Confess! Confess quickly! They are going to take you to prison!” Her clear young voice was like a bell above the hum of the noisy street. It was the girl with the short hair and pale face who had sat by my desk guarding my jewelry when the Red Guards were in my house. Her impulsive effort to save me from going to prison was immediately checked by a woman who pulled her back and took her into the school building.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2236-39. Accessed: 3/31/2013

It was good to sit down. I looked out at the faces of the men and women watching this dramatic scene and saw relief in the eyes of the former staff of Shell. Perhaps they thought that with me out of the way they would be freed from pressure. Others of the crowd looked excited. To them, it was like watching the end of a thrilling drama, only better for their having taken part in it.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2241-43. Accessed: 3/31/2013

A cloud of suspicion always hung over the heads of those with the wrong class origins. Furthermore, Mao had once declared that 3 to 5 percent of the population were enemies of socialism. To prove him correct, during the periodically launched political movements, 3 to 5 percent of the members of every organization, whether it was a government department, a factory, a school, or a university, must be found guilty of political crimes or heresy against socialism or Mao Zedong Thought. Among those found guilty, a number would be sent either to labor camps or to prison.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2273-76. Accessed: 4/1/2013

As long as they did not kill me, I would not give up.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2288. Accessed: 4/1/2013

I knew that the No. 1 Detention House was the foremost detention house in Shanghai for political prisoners; from time to time it had housed Catholic bishops, senior Kuomintang officials, prominent industrialists, and well-known writers and artists. The irony of the situation was that it was not a new prison built by the Communist regime but an old establishment used by the former Kuomintang government before 1949 to house Communist Party members and their sympathizers.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2300-2303. Accessed: 4/1/2013

However, during all the years I spent in that prison cell, the short time of darkness after the light was switched off and before daybreak was always a moment when I recovered the dignity of my being and felt a sense of renewal, simply because I had a precious moment of freedom when I was not under the watchful eyes of the guards.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2386-89. Accessed: 4/1/2013

“I’ve never committed a crime,” I declared emphatically. “Ah, a lot of you say this when you first come here. That’s a foolish attitude to assume. Just think, there are ten million people in this city. Why should you have been brought here rather than someone else? You have certainly committed a crime.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2413-16. Accessed: 4/1/2013

I knew from her tone of voice that she would probably refuse whatever I might request. To forestall such a possibility, I quickly recited a quotation of Mao that said, “To be hygienic is glorious; to be unhygienic is a shame.” Then I asked, “May I have some water to clean the cell?”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2440-42. Accessed: 4/1/2013

When the people mistrusted the official newspapers and could not obtain news freely, they were naturally more than eager to listen to and believe in whatever they could pick up in the way of political gossip.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2489-91. Accessed: 4/1/2013

“I’ve been here such a long time already. May I see the interrogator?” I asked him. “A long time already?” He straightened up and turned to face me. “You talk nonsense. I know you’ve been here less than a month. A month is not a long time. There are people who have been here for years, and their cases are not yet resolved. Why are you so impatient? You are always asking to see the interrogator. What are you going to say to him when you do see him? Are you ready to make a full confession?” “I’ll ask the interrogator to investigate my case and clarify the misunderstanding.” “What misunderstanding?” He appeared genuinely puzzled. “The misunderstanding that brought me here,” I said. “You are here because you committed a crime against the People’s Government. There is no misunderstanding. You mustn’t talk in riddles.” “I’ve never committed a crime in my whole life,” I said firmly. “If you have not committed a crime, why are you locked up in prison? Your being here proves you have committed a crime.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2522-32. Accessed: 4/1/2013

“What lawbooks? You talk just like the capitalist intellectuals who are being denounced in this Cultural Revolution. You think in terms of lawbooks, rules, and regulations. We are the proletariat, we do not have anything like that.” He seemed highly indignant, as if my assumption that they had lawbooks were an insult. “If you do not have lawbooks, what do you go by? How do you decide whether a man has committed a crime or not?” “We go by the teachings of our Great Leader Chairman Mao. His words are our criteria. If he says a certain type of person is guilty and you belong to that type, then you are guilty. It’s much simpler than depending on a lawbook,” he said. To him, it was perfectly good and logical to have the fate of men decided arbitrarily by the words of Mao Zedong, which varied depending on his priorities during a particular period and were often so vague that local officials could interpret them to suit themselves. The absolute infallibility of Mao’s words was a part of his personality cult. But I wondered how the guard would have felt if not I but he had been the victim.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2544-52. Accessed: 4/1/2013

Nevertheless, so firmly did the guards believe I was crying because I could not endure the hardship of prison life that they seized on what they thought was a psychologically weak moment and called me for interrogation the next day.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2604-6. Accessed: 4/1/2013

My heart palpitated with excitement; my footsteps were eager with expectancy. The long-awaited opportunity to answer questions and to have my case examined dispassionately was here at last. I believed a government interrogator couldn’t possibly behave like a hysterical Red Guard or a Revolutionary. He must be a trained man with a sense of responsibility, able to distinguish a guilty person from an innocent one.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2621-23. Accessed: 4/1/2013

“Time can change a person’s attitude. A woman like you would not last five years in this place. Your health will break down. Eventually you will be begging for a chance to confess. If you don’t you will surely die.” “I would rather die than tell a lie.” “Not at all. To want to live is the basic instinct of all living things, humans included.” “I will obey our Great Leader Chairman Mao’s teaching. He said, ‘Firstly, do not fear hardship, and secondly, do not fear death.’” “That quotation was not for the likes of you. That was for the Liberation Army soldiers,” he said indignantly. “Marshal Lin Biao said, ‘The teachings of our Great Leader have universal significance and are applicable in all circumstances.’ ” A subtle change had taken place in my mood since the interrogator had given me the moral advantage by lying. I was beginning to enjoy this interrogation now. It was a lot better than being left in a dark, damp cell with no one to talk to.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2678-87. Accessed: 4/1/2013

When you sat in your well-heated house and there were other people shivering in the snow, did you think of justice?” “You are confusing social justice with legal justice. I can tell you that it was precisely because my late husband and I hoped that the People’s Government would improve conditions in China so that there would never be anybody suffering cold and hunger that we remained here in 1949 rather than follow the Kuomintang to Taiwan,” I told him.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2695-99. Accessed: 4/1/2013

“The army, the police, and the court are instruments of repression used by one class against another” was said by Mao Zedong in his essay “On the Dictatorship of the People’s Democracy.” In the fifties Mao Zedong and his propaganda machinery used “the Dictatorship of the People’s Democracy” to describe the Communist regime in China. The facts of history have demonstrated, however, that the Communist regime in China was a dictatorship by Mao Zedong until his death in 1976. Mao’s essay “On the Dictatorship of the People’s Democracy” was published on July 1, 1949, to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. That essay actually heralded and justified a series of political campaigns and large-scale arrests of men and women suspected of being hostile to the new Communist regime.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2705-11. Accessed: 4/1/2013

Normally when the Party picked a victim to be punished, the Party didn’t much care what excuse it used for imposing sentence. Indeed, sometimes the excuses were extremely vague or nonexistent. To punish was the aim.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2954-56. Accessed: 4/2/2013

To all the Europeans I had met, whether diplomats or businessmen, China under Mao Zedong was a fascinating subject mainly because the closed-door policy of the Communist Party shrouded the country in mystery.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 2963-65. Accessed: 4/2/2013

Had the Red Guards tortured him because he had had contact with a British agent? God, why did I introduce him to her? How stupid I had been not to realize fully the complexity of life under Mao!

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 3014-16. Accessed: 4/2/2013

Since good intentions and sympathy for others often led people into trouble, the Chinese people had invented a new proverb that said, “The more you do, the more trouble you have; the less you do, the less trouble you have. If you do nothing whatever, you will become a model citizen.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 3016-18. Accessed: 4/2/2013

Whether you have committed any crime or not, I don’t know. In fact, I don’t know anymore what’s a crime and what’s not a crime. But since you are here already, you must just wait. Someone will deal with you one day. You’re not so badly off. You get eight hours’ sleep every night and have rice to eat. We have to attend meetings after work and don’t get eight hours’ sleep.” She banged the window shut and walked away. The behavior of the guard astonished me. This was the first time a guard had revealed herself to me as a normal human being. She certainly sounded discouraged and grumpy. I concluded that the struggle within the Party leadership was having a demoralizing effect. To work in such sensitive jobs, the prison guards must have been firm believers in the Party and its leadership. It must be disheartening, if not downright shattering, for them to learn that according to Mao Zedong so many of their superior officers were no more devoted to the ideals of Communism than the man in the street and some of them were in fact working to revive capitalism in China. They lost interest in their work. The prison gradually degenerated into a disorderly place, with prisoners shouting, crying, fighting with each other, and banging the floor when the guards were not in evidence.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 3177-87. Accessed: 4/2/2013

Our achievement is great, great, great! Our losses are small, small, and small! Some people say we have created chaos. Chaos is an expression of class struggle. Our Great Leader Chairman Mao has said, ‘A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained, and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.’ There is nothing wrong in sowing chaos to confuse the enemy. Some people say we have killed too many. Nonsense! We have killed fewer people than during the war against the Japanese imperialists and the war of liberation. In fact, we have not killed enough. There are still enemies lurking in dark corners. We’ll get them. Don’t underestimate our determination or belittle our ability to exterminate our enemies. We are Revolutionaries! We are not afraid of chaos and killing. They are the natural outcome of a revolution. They inspire our own side and send terror into the hearts of the enemy. We won’t fear even the collapse of heaven. The teachings of our Great Leader Chairman Mao will prop it up again.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 3256-64. Accessed: 4/2/2013

This detention house was run by the revisionists and capitalist-roaders of the Security Bureau. It’s absurd the prisoners here should have such good treatment. You eat rice three times a day. You live better than the poor peasants. That proves the revisionists at the Security Bureau love the counterrevolutionaries better than the peasants. This is because they themselves are also counterrevolutionaries. From now on your ration will be cut to conserve grain. You do not labor. Two meals a day is ample. And you will eat sweet potatoes and other grains rather than rice. You won’t die. But if you do, it is no loss to the Revolution. We have plenty of people in China. We will not miss a few counterrevolutionaries!

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 3266-71. Accessed: 4/2/2013

In fact, attempts at suicide were seldom successful at the No. 1 Detention House. The only person I heard of who actually did succeed was a young and talented surgeon, Dr. Song, the son of a vice-mayor of Shanghai. I was told that he painstakingly sharpened the handle of his toothbrush by grinding it on the cement floor and then used it to pierce his artery. It was revealed after Mao’s death that the Revolutionaries had put the young doctor in the detention house and tortured him to make him denounce his father.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 3323-27. Accessed: 4/2/2013

The newspaper reported a new ritual observed by all Chinese people: “Ask for instructions in the morning, check your action with Chairman Mao’s teachings at noon, and report everything at night.” Apparently everyone went through this formality in front of an official portrait of Mao.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 3334-36. Accessed: 4/2/2013

To ask for instructions was to read passages from the Little Red Book, to check was to read again from the same book, and to report was also to read from the same book. In short, three times a day, every day, every Chinese, except babies, had to read from Mao’s book of quotations.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 3336-38. Accessed: 4/2/2013

No one knew for certain how many prisoners were in this large compound, but it was widely believed that over twenty thousand men and women labored in the various workshops, producing goods that ranged from primitive computers to buttons, some for the export market.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 3478-80. Accessed: 4/2/2013

Once a counterrevolutionary, always a counterrevolutionary. You suffer for it in prison, and you suffer for it afterwards. Your family suffers for it too.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 3585-86. Accessed: 4/4/2013

Many suffered persecution during one political campaign after another, especially the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957. Those who survived to 1966 were virtually all caught up in the net of the Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 3602-4. Accessed: 4/4/2013

During my six and a half years of solitary confinement, I deliberately caused scenes such as this many times. Whenever deep depression overwhelmed me to the extent that I could no longer sleep or swallow food, I would intentionally seek an encounter with the guards.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 3692-94. Accessed: 4/4/2013

I believed that what I needed was human contact; even encounters with the guards were better than complete isolation. Besides, fighting was a positive action, much more encouraging to the human spirit than merely enduring hardship with patience, known as a virtue of the Chinese race.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 3696-98. Accessed: 4/4/2013

Liu Shaoqi immediately adopted a series of policy reversals to save the rapidly deteriorating economic situation. When his economic policy succeeded where Mao’s had failed and Liu Shaoqi became increasingly popular with Party members and the Chinese people, eclipsing Mao Zedong in influence and importance, Mao became alarmed. He carefully plotted to destroy the man who threatened his position, for he feared losing not only everything he had believed in and worked for but also his place in history.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 3744-48. Accessed: 4/4/2013

While the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was different things to different people, this gigantic struggle lasting ten full years was essentially a contest between two conflicting Party policies personified by Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi. The irony is that although Mao Zedong had Liu Shaoqi persecuted to death and seemed to have won during the Cultural Revolution, after his own death, Deng Xiaoping led China along the route of economic liberalization pioneered by Liu Shaoqi twenty years earlier, and went much further than anybody in China or the rest of the world could possibly have imagined during the days of the Cultural Revolution.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 3748-52. Accessed: 4/4/2013

It was difficult to identify the rank of the round-faced young man sitting astride a chair in the gloomy interrogation room, but I saw his uniform had four pockets. This indicated that he was an officer, as soldiers were allowed only two pockets on their jackets.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 3948-50. Accessed: 4/4/2013

“Do you mean to say that you will ignore the law and punish an innocent person simply because that person is a member of the bourgeois class?” “Why not? If it’s necessary to punish somebody, we will certainly do so. The bourgeois class is our enemy. We hope to reeducate most of its members and make them labor for their food. Those who resist and oppose us will certainly be eliminated. In any case, the victorious proletarian class makes the law to suit its purpose and to serve its interest.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 4066-70. Accessed: 4/4/2013

“That was the correct policy at that time. It was meant to win the support of the bourgeois class and to undermine the Kuomintang. After the Kuomintang was successfully overthrown, naturally that policy was no longer needed. In every circumstance, we unite the lesser enemies to fight the major enemy. When the major enemy is overcome, one of the lesser enemies will become the new major enemy. So the struggle goes on. That’s dialectical materialism.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 4096-99. Accessed: 4/4/2013

The fate of the leaders of the Democratic League was a chilling example of Mao’s habit of using people and then ruthlessly discarding them when they were no longer needed.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 4111-12. Accessed: 4/4/2013

“I’ve never committed any crime. If you insist I have, you will have to prove it.” “We’ll certainly prove it. But we want to give you a chance to confess so that you can earn lenient treatment.” “Have I not told you over and over again I’ve never committed any crime? Have I not signed a pledge that you can shoot me if you can prove I’ve committed a crime?” “You are bluffing! Don’t you worry. We’ll shoot you when the time comes,” the young worker said heatedly. “Go back to your cell and write the account again,” said the interrogator.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 4474-79. Accessed: 4/4/2013

“You were dancing with a foreigner. And you looked quite happy dancing with a foreigner. That’s decidedly unpatriotic.” “Is dancing with a foreigner unpatriotic?” I was rather taken aback by his line of attack. But I recovered in a moment and saw how I could turn the argument in my own favor. I went on, “I didn’t know dancing with a foreigner was not patriotic. But I must accept your superior judgment, as you are an enlightened Marxist and a Revolutionary. However, if I was not patriotic, at least I was useful. That’s to my credit, don’t you think?” “What do you mean, you were useful?” “Well, as you have just said, dancing with a foreigner was not patriotic. By dancing with my Swiss friend, I was making him unpatriotic, because to him surely I was the foreigner. If by the simple act of dancing I can make others unpatriotic, isn’t that being useful? Think of the possibilities from that point on. You can simply send me to dance with all China’s enemies all over the world and let me make them unpatriotic. Then, without firing a single shot, all of them are done for. How could anybody be more useful than that?”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 4758-67. Accessed: 4/4/2013

One of the most ugly aspects of life in Communist China during the Mao Zedong era was the Party’s demand that people inform on each other routinely and denounce each other during political campaigns. This practice had a profoundly destructive effect on human relationships. Husbands and wives became guarded with each other, and parents were alienated from their children. The practice inhibited all forms of human contact, so that people no longer wanted to have friends. It also encouraged secretiveness and hypocrisy. To protect himself, a man had to keep his thoughts to himself. When he was compelled to speak, often lying was the only way to protect himself and his family.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 5141-46. Accessed: 4/4/2013

He laid a hand on my arm and said calmly, with resignation, “Don’t get excited and angry. It’s useless to get angry with them. They have the last word always. If they say something happened, it happened. It’s useless to resist. I’ve learned this from my personal experience. I’m sure you learned all that too during your imprisonment.” “Not at all. I haven’t learned a thing. What’s more, I do not intend to learn.” “You will learn to accept. We all have to. I have seen it happen to so many. And it happened to me. It will happen to you too.” “I won’t let it happen to me.” “I’m sorry to hear you say that. Deeply sorry. You’ll get hurt, badly hurt, I’m afraid.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 5402-9. Accessed: 4/4/2013

Looking back on those years, I believe the main reason I was able to survive my ordeal was that the Maoist Revolutionaries failed to break my fighting spirit.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 5938-39. Accessed: 4/5/2013

“At first, when he offered to come, many of our comrades thought we shouldn’t welcome a man who represents imperialism against Vietnam, exploitation of the workers in the United States, and long-standing hostility against the People’s Republic of China. But our Great Leader is magnanimous. He said, ‘Let him come. Let’s receive him with courtesy and hear what he has to say. If he admits past mistakes and sincerely wants to change, we’ll welcome it. We are Marxists. We give a man a chance if he is honestly repentant.’ Our Great Leader is so wise! He is right! We’ll receive Nixon. And for the next few months we will educate all our comrades about the new situation and help them to see that by accepting Nixon’s visit, we are not surrendering our principles but accepting the surrender of the wrong policy of the United States government. Nixon’s visit is a great victory for us!

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 6081-87. Accessed: 4/5/2013

Throughout the interview, the militant female guard had spoken in a normal voice, almost sympathetically. The change was startling. I supposed she was a typical example of those Party members who “follow the Party line closely.” The Chinese people called them “chameleons,” as they changed attitude and behavior according to circumstances just as rapidly as the chameleon changes color. Such Party members were the survivors and achievers. They never questioned the policy of the Party but followed it promptly and carried it out. They were mindless robots, unburdened by the capacity for independent thinking or a human conscience. They made the best cadres for any Party secretary in any organization, as they were always willing and ready to serve him without question as long as he represented the power of the Party and could give them promotions. But should he fall into disgrace, they were always the first to denounce him. They were the new type of successful people produced by the Communist Revolution in China. Because they seemed to maintain their positions through every twist and turn of the Party’s policy, they became the example for the young generation of Chinese to emulate. The result was a fundamental change in the basic values of Chinese society.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 6172-81. Accessed: 4/5/2013

Was I being hysterical? Had prison life made me oversuspicious and sensitive? I examined everything again carefully. As I touched each item of her clothing, I became more and more convinced that she had indeed died. The message came to me clear and strong that she was no longer in this world. Yet I needed concrete proof because I was accustomed to dealing with facts and was suspicious of feelings I could not understand or explain. There was also a block in my mind that prevented me from accepting such a terrible possibility as her death, which would have rendered my years of struggling to keep alive meaningless. Death came to old people, not to someone as young and healthy as she was. I kept on trying to convince myself she was all right in spite of what I saw. But I could not explain the unusual look of her things spread out in front of my eyes. They seemed to say time had suddenly stood still not long after my imprisonment. The navy blue jacket looked new. But when I examined the silk lining I saw that it had creases at the armpits and that there was a handkerchief in one of the pockets. It seemed to me she had worn that jacket, but certainly not for more than one winter at the most. My mind was racing with speculations as I tried to imagine what could possibly have happened. What the guard said seemed to indicate she was alive and well. Yet she did not specifically say so. An idea came into my head. I went to the window again. “Report!” I called. No one came. I called again and again. Still no one came. Yet I heard the guards talking in their room at the other end of the corridor. When the guard on night duty came to tell me to go to bed, I tried to talk to her. But she did not come near my cell, only called out from a distance her order to go to bed.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 6211-24. Accessed: 4/5/2013

Because our secretary at that time was a British woman, I thought she would know best what advice to give, so I asked her to draw up the list and write a covering letter, which I signed. In her zeal to help her compatriots, she gave rather a long list that included items from buttons to detergents. But from a political point of view, the letter seemed to me completely innocuous. “I can’t see anything political in this letter,” I said. “Nothing political? You divulged information about the grain supply situation in Shanghai,” he said. “Really? Let me see the letter again.” By now I realized that he had been instructed to find some excuse for my imprisonment in order to avoid having to declare at the time of my release that I was innocent. I knew the Communist Party loathed admitting mistakes, since it had declared itself to be “the great, glorious, and correct Chinese Communist Party.” He handed me the letter again and said, “Read the passage about grain rations.” I read, “ ‘The Shanghai government allows everyone twenty catties of grain per month. One can buy either rice or flour. It is more than enough.’ ” I asked the interrogator, “What’s wrong with that?” “That’s divulging information concerning the grain supply situation,” he said. “The grain ration is given to everyone, including all the Europeans living in Shanghai. It’s not a secret. What’s there to divulge when it is a fact known to everyone?” “Your letter was sent abroad,” he said. “Do you mean to say the Europeans in Shanghai will not tell people abroad about it when they go back to their own countries? What about all the overseas Chinese who come back for short visits? Don’t they know what grain rations their family members get? Do they conveniently forget it when they leave China?” “That’s their business. This letter is your business. Do you or do you not admit you wrote this letter?” “The letter was not actually written by me. But I accept full responsibility for it, as I signed it and it was sent out of the office when I was the responsible person. The point with which I disagree is that stating the fact of a ration of twenty catties of rice or flour per person per month constitutes ‘divulging information.’ “ “It’s illegal to divulge information about the grain supply. But we can consider it only a political mistake since you were ignorant of the regulations,” he said. “Nonsense! It’s not a mistake, political or otherwise. Show me the regulations, if you have any.” I was angry. But he just ignored me and adjourned the interrogation.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 6294-6317. Accessed: 4/5/2013

I looked around the cell, my “home” for exactly six and a half years. Without my washbasin and towels, it already seemed different. I noticed the sheets of toilet paper I had pasted on the wall by the bed and wondered if I should tear them off so as not to leave any impression of myself behind. But I decided to leave them for the next unfortunate woman who was to occupy the cell. As I stood in the room looking at it for the last time, I felt again the cold metal of the handcuffs on my wrists and remembered the physical suffering and mental anguish I had endured while fighting with all the willpower and intellect God had given me for that rare and elusive thing in a Communist country called

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 6333-38. Accessed: 4/5/2013

“It’s high time, isn’t it? Six and a half years is a long time to lock up an innocent person,” I said. He winced but went on as if he had not heard me. “I want to give you some advice before you leave. It’s for your own good. During the time you have been here, you haven’t exactly behaved in an exemplary manner. In fact, in all the years of the detention house, we have never had a prisoner like you, so truculent and argumentative. When you leave this place, you must try to control yourself. Be careful not to irritate the masses. Shanghai is no longer the same city it was before the Cultural Revolution. You must show some respect for the proletariat. Otherwise you will suffer. You are a sick woman. You don’t want to be brought back here again, do you?” I did not say anything. He stayed a few more minutes and then departed. Obviously he had been told to talk to me. But why, I could not tell. In fact, I wasn’t listening to him very carefully. What occupied my mind was simply whether I would find my daughter alive after all.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 6345-53. Accessed: 4/5/2013

He took a couple of sheets of paper out of a folder. Then he said to me, “Stand up to listen to the conclusion.” I stood up. He read out my name and other personal particulars such as age and place of birth. Then he went on, “ ‘The above-named person was brought to the Number One Detention House on September 27, 1966, for the following reasons. One, in October 1957, in a letter to England, she divulged the grain supply situation in Shanghai. Two, she defended the traitor Liu Shaoqi and opposed the Central Committee resolution passed on Liu Shaoqi. These are serious matters that deserved punishment. However, in view of the fact that she is politically backward and ignorant, we decided to give her a chance to realize her mistakes. After six and a half years of education in the Number One Detention House, we observed a certain degree of improvement in her way of thinking and an attitude of repentance. We have, therefore, decided to show her proletarian magnanimity by refraining from pressing charges against her and allowing her to leave the detention house as a free person.’” When he had finished reading, he lifted his head and looked at me. I was livid. Anger and disgust choked me. While I despised their blatant hypocrisy and shamelessness, I knew deep in my heart that the real culprit was not this man but the evil system under which we all had to live. I would have to fight, whatever the price, I told myself. I stared back at him and sat down. “Haven’t you something to say? Aren’t you grateful? Aren’t you pleased that you can now leave as a free person?” the man said. I tried my best to control the rage that made me tremble and said, “I can’t accept your conclusion. I shall remain here in the Number One Detention House until a proper conclusion is reached about my case. A proper conclusion must include a declaration that I am innocent of any crime or political mistake, an apology for wrongful arrest, and full rehabilitation. Furthermore, the apology must be published in the newspapers in both Shanghai and Beijing, because I have friends and relatives in both cities. As for the conclusion you have just read, it’s a sham and a fraud. I was brought to the Number One Detention House long before Liu Shaoqi was denounced. How could you have anticipated that I would speak on his behalf? As for divulging information about the grain supply situation, it’s just your invention to save face. I never divulged anything, and you all know it.” They looked at each other. Then the interrogator said, “The Number One Detention House isn’t an old people’s home. You can’t stay here all your life.” “It doesn’t have to be all my life. I’ll stay here until you give a proper conclusion to my case. If you are ready to give one tomorrow, I can leave tomorrow.” “We have already heard your opinion. As I have said, we allow you to express your opinion. It’s noted down. We’ll forward it to the senior authorities. You can leave now,” the other man said. “No. The moment I leave, you will forget the whole thing. The wrong conclusion will go into my personal dossier. I’ll stay here,” I said. The interrogator stood up. He said, “I have never seen a prisoner refusing to leave the detention house before. You must be out of your mind. In any case, when the government wants you to go, you have to go. Your family has been waiting for you since early this morning. How much longer do you want to delay your departure?” Did he mean my daughter was out there waiting? Oh, how I longed to see her! Suddenly two female guards came into the room. One on each side, they dragged me out to the second gate. In the distance, standing beside a blue taxi, was the figure of a young woman. She was shorter than Meiping, and I realized with a sinking heart that she was my goddaughter Hean.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 6358-90. Accessed: 4/5/2013

“Is it possible to find such a doctor? I wonder what’s happened to my old doctor, Guo Qing at the Second Medical College Hospital?” “I’m afraid Dr. Guo is very ill. He suffered a lot during the Cultural Revolution. I’ll see what I can do to find someone else. We’ll probably have to do it through the ‘back door.’ “ “What’s a back door?” I asked her. “That’s a new way to get things done. It means making arrangements to see a doctor or to buy something one needs urgently through friends or acquaintances rather than going through the regular channels,” she explained. “Of course, back doors generally cost more because we have to give presents, not money, to those who make the arrangements. But in many instances, it’s the only way to get things done nowadays.” “Isn’t that illegal?” I asked her. I remembered how the Party used to frown on such practices and how fearful the people were of doing anything like that. Before the Cultural Revolution, except for the very privileged, nobody dared to make private arrangements for anything. “All laws and regulations have been declared tools of the ‘capitalist-roaders’ against the people. No one knows what’s legal and what’s illegal anymore. I suppose when one gets caught, it’s illegal. When one gets away with it, it’s legal. People using the back door seem to get away with it, so everybody does it.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 6533-45. Accessed: 4/5/2013

It seemed China had changed during the years I was in the detention house, and the change was not in the direction the Cultural Revolution was supposed to lead the nation. When I went with Hean the following morning to see her dentist cousin, everything was just as she had said. Although the waiting room was packed and a number of patients had no seat, we were taken straight into her cousin’s clinic. Other back-door patients were also called in by other dentists. The most astonishing thing was that no one protested. The others just sat there watching us, seemingly content to let us go in ahead of them although they had already waited for a long time and we had only just arrived.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 6662-67. Accessed: 4/5/2013

When I asked Hean why they accepted the unequal treatment with equanimity, she said, “They have other back doors even though they don’t have one at the dental department of the hospital. Under other circumstances, somewhere else, they may enjoy priority treatment while we have to wait our turn.” “What about those who have no back door?” “They’ll just have to create some. As long as you have friends and relatives, you’ll have back doors,” she informed me. That was my first encounter with the new back-door system. In time I also became quite an expert at using it, teaching English without charge in return for favors. The rapprochement between China and the United States and the importation of scientific and technical materials in the English language created a demand for English teachers. Ambitious young men and women who hoped to find jobs as interpreters with delegates going abroad for government agencies, as well as others who planned to emigrate, also wanted to learn. Requests for lessons flooded my mail.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 6667-76. Accessed: 4/5/2013

Pilfering was common in Communist China’s state-owned enterprises, as the Party secretaries were slack in guarding properties that belonged to the government and the poorly paid workers felt it fair compensation for their low pay. The practice was so widespread that it was an open secret. The workers joked about it and called it “Communism,” which in Chinese translation means “sharing property.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 7001-3. Accessed: 4/5/2013

I heard footsteps on the stairs, and Lu Ying appeared on the landing. I walked over to welcome her. “It’s such a long time since I was here. You must be well enough to join our study group meetings now,” she said as she took a seat in my room. “Thank you very much for your concern. I’m getting stronger every day.” “Many people have remarked that you should come. They see you going out and walking fast. They know you are fit.” “Indeed, I am now quite fit.” “We are studying the crimes of Lin Biao. It’s very important. It helps us to clarify our understanding of this criminal who tried to harm our Great Leader Chairman Mao. You had better join us next week.” She spoke firmly in the voice of authority. “All right. I’ll gladly come next week.” Since I could no longer hide behind the excuse of ill health, I might as well be pleasant about it.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 7123-32. Accessed: 4/5/2013

“You can’t imagine what Shanghai was like in 1967 and 1968,” said the cook. “The Red Guards and the Revolutionaries went mad. They ran wild in the city, looting and abducting people at will, torturing them in secret courts, and killing them in every cruel way imaginable. It wasn’t safe for anyone to go out on the streets. They even used ambulances to abduct people when there weren’t enough vehicles for their purposes. There were so many suicides! And many people went to the police stations begging to be taken to prison for protection.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 7169-73. Accessed: 4/5/2013

“How did your Party secretary know about me?” “Before you were taken in, the Red Guards came to our factory to question me about you. The Party secretary was in charge then. He was present at the interview. Being a film actress, Meiping was well known. When she died, the tragic news was the talk of the city. Your case was frequently mentioned in connection with her death,” Mr. Hu said. “What else did your Party secretary tell you?” I asked him. “It seems one of the departments supposedly involved in the so-called conspiracy was the United Front Department, which was accused of shielding class enemies. Its director, a protégé of Premier Zhou, died in mysterious circumstances after a struggle meeting. It was alleged that he committed suicide by putting his face to the gas burner. But when his body was found, the windows were open and there was little gas in the room,” Mr. Hu said. “Perhaps his suicide was faked?” I was thinking of my daughter and wondering when I would find out the truth. “That’s what his family claims. In Beijing, Premier Zhou’s adopted daughter, Sun Weishi, the director of the People’s Art Theater, was put in prison and tortured to death simply because Jiang Qing regarded her as an enemy. Two well-known Beijing opera actors, Ma Lianliang and Cheng Yanqiu, were beaten to death because they refused to confess they were Kuomintang spies. I heard these two actors had been invited back from Hong Kong by Premier Zhou, who was also their sponsor when they joined the Party. There are many cases of scientists accused of being spies for the imperialists who were invited back to China by the premier too. Just think, if any one of these people had confessed to being a spy, the radicals could have then cast doubt on the premier, if not actually accused him of shielding spies,” Mr. Hu said. “Do you mean to say that your Party secretary was of the opinion that I and other senior Chinese employees of foreign firms in Shanghai were put in prison and pressed to confess just because someone, either Lin Biao or Jiang Qing, wanted to use our confessions, if we made them, to discredit Premier Zhou’s policy of allowing foreign firms to operate in China?” I asked him. “Yes, my Party secretary implied as much. Lin Biao and Jiang Qing both regarded Premier Zhou as the major obstacle to their ambition after Liu Shaoqi was overthrown. In their eyes Premier Zhou was difficult to deal with because unlike Liu Shaoqi, he had never opposed Chairman Mao. So they had to formulate an outlandish scheme. Premier Zhou was not a single person alone. Behind him stood a large group of Party leaders and the senior members of the bureaucracy. It’s a formidable force in the power structure.” “Now that Lin Biao has died, Premier Zhou has become the most powerful man after Chairman Mao. Isn’t his position secure?” I asked Mr. Hu. “Strengthened, but not secure, because Jiang Qing and her associates are ambitious. Premier Zhou is ill. The question is who will succeed him.” “Isn’t Deng Xiaoping going to succeed Premier Zhou?” “That’s by no means certain. Deng Xiaoping is not a subtle person like Premier Zhou. He wants quick results. The radical leaders will feel threatened. That would hasten the next round of struggle,” said Mr. Hu.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 7695-7723. Accessed: 4/5/2013

After Da De left, I sat there on the balcony for a long time thinking of this rather strange young man. Never in my life had I met anyone quite like him. Marxists believed a man’s character was formed by environment. Was he the typical product of the Chinese Communist Revolution? In fact, I felt rather sorry for him. He was extremely intelligent and hardworking. If he had the chance to live and work in a free society, he would probably do well. I did not think he would have much of a future in China, even as a Party member. With his overdeveloped ego and self-confidence, Da De was essentially an individualist. The Communist Party was not very tolerant of individualists. And with his uncle dead, he had lost his entrée to the proletarian elite.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 7841-46. Accessed: 4/5/2013

Article after article stressed the little-known fact that when Confucius was fifty years of age he was made an official in the Kingdom of Lu and for a short time undertook the duties of the prime minister. It was claimed by the Maoist writers that Confucius was a retrogressive upholder of conservatism and therefore a hindrance to progress. The Chinese people were left in no doubt that Jiang Qing’s campaign to criticize Confucius was in fact a campaign against Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. The name of the ancient sage was used as a code name for the ailing prime minister. The anti-Confucius articles further claimed that in Confucius’s time there existed in China another school of thought that was progressive, the legalists. The struggle between these two schools of thought was compared to the struggle between the Revolutionaries and the “capitalist-roaders.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 7890-97. Accessed: 4/5/2013

I sat down too and asked him, “Did you come to our home before the Cultural Revolution? How is it that I don’t recall seeing you? And Meiping never mentioned your name to me. She used to tell me about all her friends.” “You were very close, mother and daughter, weren’t you? You were devoted to each other, everybody knows that. That’s why I have come to discuss a very important matter with you.” He leaned forward and said in a confidential manner, “I know some people who could help you hit back at her murderers. These people do not want any money or reward. They feel sorry for you. They simply want to help you.” What an extraordinary offer, I thought. The correctness of everything that had taken place during the Cultural Revolution had been repeatedly reaffirmed by official propaganda during the campaign to criticize Confucius. For me to try to do anything at all about my daughter’s death was certain to take me right back to the No. 1 Detention House. Quickly I said, “I’m not interested in hitting back at anybody. I’m very sad my daughter had to die as she did. It was entirely unjustifiable and unnecessary. But she has died. Nothing will bring her back.” “How can you be so magnanimous! It’s your duty as her mother to avenge her death,” he said. “I believe her death will be avenged. I believe the government will carry out an investigation when the time comes. I have full confidence in the People’s Government. You haven’t told me where and when you knew Meiping.” “I met her when she was at the Malu People’s Commune. She lived with a peasant family there. I used to visit her and have a chat.” “Were you at the Malu People’s Commune?” “Yes. I was doing some scientific work there. That’s when I met her.” Was he really Meiping’s friend, as he claimed? Did he really meet Meiping at the Malu People’s Commune? I thought I could check his story. I said, “Since you were at the Malu People’s Commune and met Meiping there, you must know Chen Lan, the girl Meiping was very friendly with.” “Oh, yes, indeed. I used to see them together,” he said hastily. I picked up the photograph of Meiping with the group of peasant girls and handed it to him. “Someone gave me this photograph. I have never met Chen Lan. Could you tell me which one of these girls is Chen Lan?” He examined the photograph and pointed at the girl with her arm around my daughter’s shoulder. It was a good guess, but the girl he pointed out was not Chen Lan. Chen Lan was standing at the end of the row, not near my daughter at all. His mistake was proof that he had not known my daughter at the Malu People’s Commune, if at all. Why had he come? Was it just to persuade me to attempt to avenge Meiping’s death so that I could be induced to do something wrong? Or was there something else he hoped to achieve? Because I did not speak, he thought he had made the correct guess. Emboldened by his success, he said, “I’ll come to see you often and let you get to know me really well. I’m interested in world affairs. I’m sure I can learn a lot from you. You can learn a lot from me too because I’m a scientist. If you do not want to meet those people I told you about face to face, I could be your emissary.” “Why should you want to do that? Isn’t it dangerous to oppose those involved in my daughter’s death? Are they not Revolutionaries backed by powerful people?” I asked him. “I loved Meiping. Ever since I heard she died, I can’t stop thinking of her. I hate her murderers no less intensely than you do. I would be glad to do anything to have her death avenged,” he said with mock sincerity, pretending to be very sad. “You loved Meiping? You must have known her quite well, then. It’s strange that she never mentioned you to me.” He went red in the face. “I loved her from a distance. She did not know it. It was a case of ‘one-sided longing.’ “ “I can see you are a romantic. But I think we should wait for the government to avenge her death. No matter how angry we are, we have no legal right to act.” “The present government will never do anything! They are behind the murderers, can’t you see? How can you expect them to do anything?” He raised his voice impatiently, perhaps feeling disappointed that I had not swallowed the bait. “Please calm down. You mustn’t malign the government. To say the government is behind the murderers is counterrevolutionary. I cannot allow my guest to talk like that in my home,” I warned him in a stern voice. “You are a careful woman. It doesn’t matter what we say in private. After what happened to Meiping and to yourself, you must hate the Communist Party and the People’s Government, even though you don’t say so.” “You are quite wrong. I do not hate the Communist Party or the People’s Government. But I’ll think over what you have said. If I change my mind, I’ll get in touch with you. Will you please show me your work pass so that I can verify your identification and copy down your address?” I asked him. “There is no need for you to see my work pass. I’ll write down my address for you.” He seemed flustered by my request. “I must see your work pass if you expect me to trust you,” I insisted. Reluctantly he took out his work pass and handed it to me. I put on my reading glasses and examined it. The pass was issued by a factory identified by a number only. Everyone in China knew that such factories belonged to the army. And stamped across the pass was the word “confidential.” He seemed to be a technician engaged in some sort of confidential work at a weapons factory. My strongest defense during my imprisonment was the fact that I did not know anybody who knew government secrets. To be in contact with someone doing confidential work in an army factory would not only make it impossible for me to leave China but would also open the way to all sorts of false accusations against me. I opened the door of my room and called A-yi. When she came, I said, “I want you to be a witness to what I’m going to say to our guest.” Turning to the man, I handed his work pass back to him and said, “Liu Xing, I forbid you ever to come to see me again. I have ‘foreign connections’ and have been wrongfully accused of being a spy of the imperialists. As a scientist at a factory doing confidential work, you have committed a serious mistake by coming to see me. When you go back to your factory, you must report to your Party secretary at once and confess your mistake. You must report to him exactly what you said to me and what I said to you.” He just stood there, looking embarrassed. “A-yi! This is a serious matter. You must never open our door to admit this young man to our house.” Opening the door wide, I said again to Liu Xing, “I presume you are a Party member since your work is confidential. I’m astonished that you did not know better. I should really denounce you to the police. Now go! Don’t ever come back.” He went without a word. But I discovered he had left the box of ginseng on the table. I sent A-yi to give it back to him, but he had already disappeared on his bicycle.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 7937-99. Accessed: 4/6/2013

Hean’s mother said to me, “We are such old friends that you should know I’m very fond of you. I hope you understand if I have said or done things I would not normally say or do. Living in the present circumstances, we can’t always be our true selves.” “Oh, yes, don’t worry! I understand perfectly,” I told her and took my leave. She accompanied me to the street. “Would you approve if I told everybody that I’m too ill to visit you? I do have rather serious heart trouble, as you know.” “Certainly. I would miss seeing you, but it’s for the best. I don’t want you to be placed in an awkward situation.” “I’m glad you understand. Let’s hope it won’t be for long. Take care of yourself.” She sounded relieved.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8122-29. Accessed: 4/6/2013

One day, I was told by my one remaining student besides Da De that Zhang Chunqiao, the Party boss of Shanghai, a Politburo member and a longtime associate of Jiang Qing, had said, “We would rather have socialism’s lower production figures than capitalism’s higher production figures.” The radicals in the rural areas took up his statement and proclaimed, “We would rather have socialism’s poor harvest than capitalism’s abundance.” Not to be left behind, other radicals declared, “We would rather have socialism’s trains that are behind schedule than capitalism’s trains that are on time.” In such an atmosphere, the workers became fearful of doing too much, the peasants became reluctant to go into the field, and drivers of trains, buses, and even mules deliberately slowed down so that they could arrive behind schedule. The already strained economy took another tumble. With their controlled propaganda machinery and widespread network of radical organizations, which had been developed during the Cultural Revolution, the Maoist leaders succeeded in sabotaging Deng Xiaoping’s effort to put China’s economy back on its feet.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8303-11. Accessed: 4/6/2013

he stopped suddenly and said casually, “I suppose you know Premier Zhou is dying of cancer in the Beijing Hospital?” “Is it really true?” “Yes, it’s true. Since he will be removed from the struggle by dying, a lot of cases … such as the one about a conspiracy of foreign firms and government departments in Shanghai, you know what I mean? Somebody mentioned it to you, perhaps? And others, of course, there are others … In any case”—he waved his arm in the air—“all will be shelved!” “Why only shelved and not clarified?” I asked him anxiously. Da De seemed to sober up and pull himself together when he said, quite clearly, “Once an accusation is made by a senior source, it can never be clarified, only shelved. You don’t expect the senior source to admit he made a false accusation or a mistake, do you?” He did not wait for my answer but sauntered out the door and down the stairs.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8406-15. Accessed: 4/6/2013

In January 1976, Zhou Enlai died after serving as prime minister of the People’s Republic of China since its inception in 1949. An enigmatic man, Zhou was a Communist leader with a difference. To the Chinese people, he resembled those few traditional prime ministers immortalized in history and legend because of their high moral caliber. Even Zhou’s consistent efforts to mitigate the ill effects of, rather than to oppose openly, Mao’s disastrous political campaigns, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, were considered “wise” by the long-suffering Chinese people. They were only too glad that Zhou Enlai was there to pick up the pieces afterwards. Because Zhou appeared reasonable rather than intransigent, subtle rather than bombastic, many people who had met him thought him less than a firm believer in Marxism. In actual fact, a close examination of his life and views, as reflected in the decisions he made and in his published speeches and writings, reveals that Zhou Enlai never wavered from the commitment he made to realize Communism in China when he joined the Party as a young man. He differed from the radicals only in his belief that foreign capital and intellectuals trained abroad could be utilized to achieve his ultimate aim.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8427-36. Accessed: 4/6/2013

After Zhou Enlai’s death, Jiang Qing became even more active and was constantly in the public eye. While denunciations of the attempt by the “capitalist-roaders” to “reverse the verdict of the Cultural Revolution” continued, more and more articles appeared in the radical-controlled press praising China’s few female rulers in history. Attention was concentrated on Empress Lu (241–180 B.C.) of the Han dynasty and Empress Wu (A.D. 624–705) of the Tang dynasty, both of whom succeeded their husbands upon the men’s death. The reigns of these women were described as prosperous and propitious to prove the virtue of female rulers. The Chinese people watched with dismay Jiang Qing’s maneuvers to prepare public opinion for her acceptance as Mao’s successor. They showed their contempt by circulating stories about her promiscuity and self-indulgence that defied the most fertile imagination. Once at our Residents’ Committee meeting, a police official addressed us and told us that we must not pass on rumors about our leaders and must report to the police if we heard any. Although the man did not mention any leader’s name, everybody knew that some of the rumors had gotten back to Jiang Qing and that she was trying to stop their circulation.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8480-89. Accessed: 4/6/2013

Zhou Enlai was childless, in China considered the greatest misfortune. It was said and generally believed by the Chinese people that when advised to take a younger wife so that he could have an heir, Zhou had refused and said, “All Chinese children are my children.” For this the Chinese people admired him as a man of impeccable moral principle, the more outstanding because many other Communist Party leaders were discarding their older wives in favor of young women in the cities they had conquered.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8495-99. Accessed: 4/6/2013

The wreaths accumulated. They came by the thousands from factories and people’s communes in and around Beijing, carried by workers and peasants in mourning in a solemn procession and laid down in a ceremony, with the men and women taking an oath of loyalty to the deceased premier. Soon the steps and the area surrounding the monument were covered. Those who brought the wreaths lingered, and others made special trips to watch the scene. The men and women read, sometimes with homemade loudspeakers, the poems and pledges they had written for Zhou Enlai while others listened and copied down the poems and messages attached to the wreaths and flowers. So many children had tied single white flowers on the hedge that it was entirely covered. It was estimated that by the day of Qing Ming several hundred thousand people had visited the monument and taken part in one form of ceremony or another, swearing allegiance to Zhou Enlai and what he stood for. The young people pledged emotionally to accomplish Zhou Enlai’s unfinished task of rebuilding China through his Four Modernizations Program. By now, the wreaths had overflowed to cover the stands around the square. Increasingly, the poems for Zhou went beyond simple epitaphs of praise. Many of them compared the radical leaders unfavorably with the deceased prime minister and expressed concern about China’s destiny falling into their hands. As news of this astonishing activity spread to other cities, trains departing for the capital carried contributions of wreaths and poetry to Beijing. The more militant opponents of the radicals chalked slogans and put up posters against them outside the carriages. The train attendants did not wipe off the slogans but kept them fresh, so that each train that arrived at the Beijing railway station was a living protest against the radical leaders.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8499-8512. Accessed: 4/6/2013

The radical leaders watched the scene at Tiananmen Square with increasing alarm and decided to take action. On the fatal night of April 5, the mayor of Beijing, a Jiang Qing collaborator, ordered the militia to surround the area. The police and the militia, both controlled by Jiang Qing and her associates, went in with clubs and pistols to drive the people away from the monument. As the people dispersed, the militia opened fire. Thousands of unarmed demonstrators were killed or wounded. Those found with poems were taken to the Security Bureau, condemned as counterrevolutionaries, and shot without trial. Tiananmen Square was cordoned off. It took the cleaners of Beijing two days to hose away the blood and remove everything including the corpses.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8521-26. Accessed: 4/6/2013

In a fit of temper, Mao dictated a directive to a hastily called Politburo meeting, asking its members to pass a resolution to remove Deng Xiaoping from the position of vice-premier and to appoint Hua Guofeng, a relatively junior member of the Politburo, as acting prime minister and first vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. In effect, Mao Zedong had designated Hua Guofeng as his successor. Though an aged and dying man, Mao was astute enough to know that if he had appointed Zhang Chunqiao as premier, there would have been civil war in the country and the Communist Party would have been irrevocably split.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8529-33. Accessed: 4/6/2013

In July, an earthquake registering 8 on the Richter scale hit Tangshan, an industrial and mining city in North China. There was no warning because the State Bureau of Seismology was embroiled in a new round of power struggles and its work was completely paralyzed. The city was 80 percent destroyed, and over a million inhabitants died or were severely wounded. The quake area included both Beijing and Tianjin, where, though casualties were not heavy, houses collapsed and thousands were rendered homeless.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8579-82. Accessed: 4/6/2013

“Now you are out of it all. The case is shelved and you have become a teacher.” “Correct.” “Did they let you go with good grace? Were they not annoyed that you wanted to marry a girl from a capitalist family?” Da De laughed and said, “You haven’t a clue what those people are like. They are only too glad that they don’t have to find a job for me. My usefulness is over. They were pleased to get rid of me. And some of them actually envy me because I am marrying a girl with the prospect of getting a large sum of money. Why do you think people want to get involved in political struggles? To get better jobs, of course. And better jobs mean better living conditions and more pay. There is no way one can get ahead in China except through taking part in political struggles.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8639-45. Accessed: 4/6/2013

FOR SO MANY YEARS I had waited for Mao to die. When I was in prison, I was desperate enough to pray for it to happen. Now that he had really died, I did not know how to proceed.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8673-75. Accessed: 4/6/2013

The resolution was not long. As soon as it was read, we were told that since it was late, discussions would take place next time. We could go home. There were no cheers, no boos. Nobody said a word. We trooped out of the room just as we had come in—with passive faces, heads slightly bowed to avoid unwittingly speaking with our eyes, moving slowly so as not to show excitement. We behaved as if we had no feelings one way or another because we were afraid. The news we had just heard was too startling, almost unbelievable. We were accustomed to sudden reverses of policy by the Party, but nothing like this had ever happened before. To play safe, it was best not to appear to react. Besides, Shanghai was in the hands of the radicals, as we all knew. Most of the local officials were their followers. Perhaps even the man who read the document to us was a Jiang Qing appointee. Shanghai people were wily; they did not wish to risk trouble by untimely laughter or cheers.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8725-32. Accessed: 4/6/2013

Zhang Yufeng was the last of a succession of young females who had shared Mao’s bed. The Chinese people knew but never dared to talk about the fact that their “Great Leader” was a womanizer. In his dotage, the self-styled successor of Marx and Lenin, and the symbol of progress and enlightenment, believed, as some Chinese emperors had believed, that sexual liaisons with young virgins enhanced longevity in an old man.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8803-6. Accessed: 4/6/2013

I looked at this man seated in front of me and wondered what his true feeling for the Party was now. The cuffs of his faded blue cotton jacket were frayed, and his black cloth shoes were worn. His face was pale and thin. He had had a hard life; his appearance showed it. Dedicated lower-middle-ranking officials like this man were the foundation of the power of the Communist Party. When their faith in the Party was shaken, the Party could not govern effectively. No matter how correct or timely the policy decided upon by the Politburo in Beijing, its success or failure depended on officials like this man who implemented the policy.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8855-59. Accessed: 4/6/2013

“As I told you before, I feel no resentment about what happened to me. During the six and a half years I was at the Number One Detention House I had much time to study and to think. I have learned a great deal. But I do feel deeply disappointed that greater efforts have not been made by the Public Security Bureau to resolve the crime committed against my daughter and to bring the murderer to justice.” I addressed the above remarks directly to Director Han. But he refused to be drawn into a discussion of my daughter’s case. He went on, “You were given very special consideration at the detention house, you know. The special food, the medical treatment, etc. If you had remained outside, perhaps you wouldn’t have survived the Cultural Revolution.” It was really incredible, I thought, that this man could be trying to make me say I was grateful to the Party and the People’s Government for putting me in prison. All the bureaucrats of the Party seemed to have an insatiable appetite for hearing words of gratitude from the people, even when they knew those words could not have been sincere. It was as if they needed reassurance that even when things went very wrong there was something good about the system after all. Perhaps it would have been diplomatic if I had spoken as he hoped and agreed with him. But I had been too wounded by my suffering and by the death of my daughter to go that far. I remained silent.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8935-45. Accessed: 4/6/2013

That night, I could not sleep. Lying in the darkened room, I remembered the years that had gone by, and I saw my daughter in various stages of her growth from a chubby-cheeked baby in Canberra, Australia, to a beautiful young woman in Shanghai. I felt defeated because I could do nothing to overcome the obstacles that prevented the complete clarification of her case. I blamed myself for her death because I had brought her back to Shanghai from Hong Kong in 1949. How could I have failed to see the true nature of the Communist regime when I had read so many books on the Soviet Union under Stalin? I asked myself. Next morning, the newspaper printed a report of the memorial meetings of the film studio. Meiping was listed among the dead artists. The news of my own rehabilitation also spread as a result. During the following month of December and over the New Year holiday period, I had many visitors. Relatives who had kept their distance and avoided my daughter and me when our lives were under a cloud now claimed me as their dearest and nearest. They told me that they had worried about me and cried for Meiping. Some of them offered to live with me and take care of me, while others nominated their children for me to adopt so that I would not be childless. None of them attempted to explain why they had not shown us sympathy or given us help when we needed it. They felt no remorse for neglecting us, partly because some of them had had difficulties of their own and partly because they had behaved in exactly the same manner as millions of other Chinese living under the shadow of Mao Zedong. They thought I would understand.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 8972-83. Accessed: 4/6/2013

“Don’t you want to serve the people?” he asked. “To serve the people” was perhaps the most publicized slogan of the Chinese Communist Party. It was a phrase taken from an essay Mao Zedong wrote in 1944 to commemorate the death of a Party member, Zhang Side. Whenever the Party wanted a man to do something he did not want to do, the official would ask, “Don’t you want to serve the people?” It was impossible for me to say that I didn’t want to serve the people. I thought a compromise was in order. “Would you agree to my teaching a few students here at my home?” “You mean teaching them individually?” “Yes.” “I’m afraid we’ve never had that kind of arrangement before. How are we to calculate your pay if you do not come to teach at the institute?” “I would be quite happy to do it without pay. To serve the people, as you have said.” After thinking over my proposal for a few moments, he said, “I’ll have to discuss your suggestion with my colleagues. I will let you know what we have decided.” He took his leave. I never heard from him again. By offering an alternative he could not accept, I put the ball in his court and saved his face. Instead of my refusing him, he was refusing me. This was the only way to deal with people who hated to be refused.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 9016-28. Accessed: 4/6/2013

With the publication of this item of news, I became an instant celebrity. My friends and neighbors, including the Party secretary of my Residents’ Committee, called to offer their congratulations and to examine the certificate of merit, which they told me should be hung up on the wall. People who had avoided me now crossed the street to greet me. Lu Ying, who had criticized my clothes only a few years ago, now complimented me on my neat appearance and asked me where I had bought them. It seemed I had come a long way from the days when I was a nonperson suffering insults and persecution. Yet I had not changed one iota. It was the Party’s policy that had changed.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 9290-95. Accessed: 4/6/2013

The Political Consultative Conference was a United Front Organization, a part of the campaign for national unity. The appointed delegates had no real voice in affairs of state. In theory they were there to be “consulted”; in practice they were there merely to add an affirmative voice to decisions already taken by the Party.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 9337-39. Accessed: 4/6/2013

After I left Shanghai, I met many Europeans and Americans who thought Communist China was an egalitarian society. This simply is not true. The fact is that the Communist government controls goods, services, and opportunities and dispenses them to the people in unequal proportions. The term “internal” was used for goods and services available to officials of a certain rank and a few outsiders on whom for one reason or another the government wished to bestow favor. I have heard the term “internal internal” used to describe goods and services reserved for the very senior officials, especially in the military, who seemed to get the first choice and the lion’s share of everything. Though the salary of a member of the Politburo was no more than eight or ten times that of an industrial worker, the perks available to him without charge were comparable to those enjoyed by kings and presidents of other lands. And the privileges were extended to his family, including his grandchildren, even after his death.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 9346-52. Accessed: 4/6/2013

The government was probably embarrassed by the crowds outside the American consulate general waiting to apply for visas. Her speech was useful to discourage would-be emigrants. In fact, the newspaper had already published several stories of young people who had gone to the United States as immigrants only to find that they could not get jobs or be assimilated into American society. Disappointed, they returned to Shanghai. To their surprise and joy, they found their old jobs waiting for them, and their Party secretaries gave them a hero’s welcome. The stories invariably ended with the young people pledging to work hard for the Four Modernizations Program.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 9381-86. Accessed: 4/6/2013

“You must trust the Party and the government. In the not too distant future, there will be an official verdict on the Cultural Revolution. After that, our work to clarify all residual problems will become easier,” Comrade Ma told me. From what she said I understood that since the Cultural Revolution had not yet been officially repudiated, the Revolutionaries who had committed the crimes could not be denounced, because they committed the crimes in the name of the Cultural Revolution. What Comrade Ma did not say but everybody in Shanghai knew was that many Revolutionaries had joined the Party in the meantime and become officials. It is much harder to confront a Party official than an ordinary person.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 9418-23. Accessed: 4/6/2013

The official said that she had selected our street to house the displaced people because it was too full of former class enemies and capitalists, too clean, and too quiet. To put a large number of proletarians in our midst would be “good” for us. I was astonished to hear this and asked Mrs. Zhu why the other officials did not oppose her. Mrs. Zhu said, “Nobody wants to offend former Revolutionaries promoted to official positions. They are afraid things will change back again.”

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 9516-20. Accessed: 4/6/2013

When he came out of the inner room and sat down across the table from me, I said, “I’ve received a letter from a former British ambassador to Beijing. He’s an old friend. He’s coming to Shanghai. In the letter he asks if he may come to see me.” I took the letter out and translated it verbatim into Chinese for Lao Li. Lao Li listened to my translation but said nothing. I asked, “Do you think I ought to see him?” “That’s entirely up to you. It’s your private business,” said Lao Li. “Perhaps I should not see him?” I asked again. “Wouldn’t he think it rather strange if you refuse to see him?” Lao Li said. “Do you mean to say you think I ought to see him?” I said, trying, of course, to find out what he really meant. “I didn’t say anything like that. It’s entirely your own private business whether you see him or not,” he said rather impatiently. “I need advice from the government. Sir John Addis was an ambassador, not a schoolteacher or someone like that. He’s a political person,” I told Lao Li. “I can’t give you advice on your private life,” Lao Li said. “All right, in that case, I’ll write and tell him I can’t see him,” I said. “Did I tell you not to see him?” “Perhaps I should see him?” “It’s entirely your own private business,” Lao Li said again. It suddenly dawned on me that I was putting Lao Li in a very awkward position by requesting his advice. I sensed that he was in favor of my seeing Sir John but did not want to be held responsible for saying so outright. I said, “All right, I’ll write and tell him I’ll see him.” Lao Li smiled and said, “It’s entirely your own decision.” “Do you think I should invite him to dinner?” I asked. “Can your A-yi cook a dinner suitable for an ambassador? Besides, what about those shacks outside your door? He has been to your home before the Cultural Revolution. What would he think of your living conditions now?” Lao Li became quite animated as he dispensed advice freely. “All right, I’ll take him to a restaurant. Thanks for the advice.” I got up from the bench to leave. Lao Li stood up also. “I didn’t give you any advice,” he said. “It’s entirely your private business.” “Anyway, thanks for listening to me. I’ll let you know when Sir John comes in August,” I said and went home to answer John’s letter.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 9552-77. Accessed: 4/6/2013

Many times in my life I had sailed from Shanghai to go abroad, standing just as I did now on the deck of a ship, with the wind whipping my hair while I watched the coastline of China receding. Never had I felt so sad as I did at that moment. It was I who had brought Meiping back from Hong Kong in April 1949, in response to my husband’s request. The shocking tragedy of her death, I believed, was a direct consequence of our fatal decision to stay in our own country at that crucial moment of history. Therefore I felt guilty for being the one who was alive. I wished it were Meiping standing on the deck of this ship, going away to make a new life for herself. After all, it was the law of nature that the old should die first and the young should live on, not the other way around. Also I felt sad because I was leaving forever the country of my birth. It was a break so final that it was shattering. God knows how hard I tried to remain true to my country. But I failed utterly through no fault of my own.

Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai. Kindle Edition. loc. 9682-88. Accessed: 4/6/2013