Shanghai Life and Death(1)

Part I Revolutionary Storm

Chapter 1: Political Persecution

What is gone is never to be returned, but it is unforgettable. At this moment, my mind wandered back to July 1966, an unbearably hot night. It was in the study of my former home in Shanghai. My daughter was sleeping soundly in her own room. The servants were busy with their own affairs in their own rooms. I was alone in the study, listening to the ceiling fan buzzing above me, empty and monotonous. Because of the sickly heat, the carnations in the cream-colored Qianlong vase were all drooping and sluggish. Along the wall a row of bookshelves, full of Chinese and foreign classics. The dim light, half of the living room, are shrouded in a shadow, but the white sofa on a pair of satin red embroidered cushions, but still bright and eye-catching, very solid.

An old friend of mine, an Englishman, once claimed that my home was an oasis of elegance and high spirits in this color-poor city. This is not too much to say. My home, although not a beautiful house, but by Western standards, it can also belong to the fun and elegant. I tried to make it a cozy and comfortable nest for both of us, so that we could live our lives more or less according to our own tastes in this increasingly proletarian city. Since liberation, in a city of millions of people like Shanghai, only a few families have been able to maintain the old way of life, such as living in the original mansions and employing a few servants.

Of course, the Communist Party never dictated the pattern of how people should live. But in fact, since 1949, in order to solve the problem of social unemployment, employers were not allowed to fire their own employees, but the constant political campaigns had gradually plunged some of the formerly wealthy people into increasing poverty. When they were the target of many campaigns, they were either subject to wage cuts or large fines, and many of them had to leave Shanghai with their families and move to the frontiers of the mainland. I was able to go on with my life, not only because I had the financial means to maintain my old lifestyle, but also because I was the target of the United Front. But in any case, my daughter and I lived our lives carefully and peacefully, convinced that communism was the inevitable trend of China’s history and that we would follow the wheel of history together.

The time before midnight on July 3, 1966, was the last few hours of the quiet and cozy life we had been living for years, so it is no wonder that my thoughts often return to that time. That night, the city was so hot and muggy that even with the windows and doors open, there was not even a hint of a cool breeze. My cheeks and elbows were sweaty and sticky, and my shirt was so wet that it was taped to my spine. I leaned over and pondered the words in the newspaper, sentence by sentence, word by word. On the eve of every political movement, the newspaper would publish some strong, strongly worded articles, which were designed to create propaganda and to arm the masses. I often pondered over these articles and editorials, because I could grasp and analyze the purpose of each campaign and the targets they targeted and fought against. Before this, I had never been involved in any political movement. So at that time, I didn’t even realize that I was, in fact, facing an unprecedented disaster. But as usual, the wording and the strong, extreme tone of the editorials made me feel very uneasy.

Old Jo, my maid, brought a glass of iced tea on a tray. I took a sip of the iced tea and turned my attention to my husband’s portrait. Although it has been nine years since he left me, yet the emptiness and loneliness I felt because of his loss still haunts me at times. Whenever I was politically harassed by insecurity, I always felt so lonely and unsupported that I needed his shelter and support.

We met in London in 1935. At the time, he was working on his doctorate. After our marriage, we returned to Chongqing, the capital of the Kuomintang during the war, in 1939, and he served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kuomintang. When Shanghai was liberated, he was the head of the Shanghai office of the KMT Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Zhang Hanfu, the Communist representative who came to take over at the time, still retained him as a diplomatic advisor to General Chen Yi, the new mayor of Shanghai during the transition period. The following year, he was allowed to resign and immediately became the general manager of the Shanghai branch of the Asia Pacific Oil Company. Like HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank and Imperial Chemical, Asean was also an institution of the British multinational trading company. Asean still wanted to keep its office in China at that time. For Asia is the only Western oil company still willing to stay in mainland China, in line with the principle of developing trade with Western countries, the government authorities are still very favorable to the company.

In 1957, when my husband died of cancer, the company was succeeded by a British general manager, and I was appointed as a consultant to the general manager, a position I held until 1966.

The new British Managing Director, through me, was able to solve on their behalf some of the difficult problems and difficulties that were often encountered by the management in those days. I had to juggle between the company and the government, not to compromise the dignity and prestige of Asean, but also to save the face of the Chinese side. My task was to manage the staff, to be the liaison between the General Manager and the company’s staff union. I had to analyze the demands made by the union, mediate various disputes, and draft important documents in Chinese between the company and the Chinese government agencies. I acted as General Manager whenever the General Manager was on vacation or went to Beijing for negotiations. I felt fortunate to be a woman in charge of such a world-renowned company.

In the spring of 1966, Asean negotiated and signed an agreement with the relevant authorities of the People’s Government to liquidate its assets and liabilities. We surrendered all the property of the Shanghai company, and the government authorities took over all the employees of the company and arranged alternative jobs for them or paid their pensions. But I am not included. This refers only to the employees who belong to the Asean union. The union was a branch of the Shanghai Federation of Trade Unions, and I was a member of the management staff.

After the agreement was signed, my daughter, who was an actress at the Shanghai Film Studio, went on a tour to North China. I had planned to go to Hong Kong once she returned to Shanghai. While I was waiting for her to return to Shanghai, the Cultural Revolution broke out. My daughter’s team was immediately called back to Shanghai and returned to the factory to participate in the Cultural Revolution. I know that whenever there is a political movement, government officials are always reluctant to sign off on any application; at the same time, work is delayed, if not halted completely. Therefore, I decided not to apply for an exit permit to Hong Kong, in order to avoid being shut out. Once your application is withdrawn, the Public Security Bureau will have to put it on the file and it will be a bit of a problem to apply again in the future. So we decided to stay in Shanghai, thinking that the Cultural Revolution, like all previous political movements, would be over in a year at most.