The wren nests in this branch

The wren nests in the deep forest, but a branch – “Zhuangzi – Easy Travel

The memory of the seventies is an old bound book with uncut pages, sealed in a corner of the heart, which I have never wanted to open, could not bear to open, and did not dare to open.


After the Spring Festival in 1970, I came to Lanzhou once again.

Lanzhou is not new to me. When I was five years old, I followed my parents when they went to Lanzhou with the army supporting the great northwest. I remember the Leap Forward Yangge and the gongs and drums are associated with Lanzhou. At the age of nine, even though my parents were double-income workers and cadres of the Railway Bureau, there was no overnight food at home, so my brother and I were sent back to Beijing to live in my grandfather’s house. That was 1960.

This time I was already nineteen years old. After being displaced from Inner Mongolia, Henan and Shanxi, I felt that it was time for me to work for rice and food, even though I still had the pride of “a thousand years of wisdom and a pen”. Determined to work hard, I got on a truck in mid-June to recruit temporary workers for the brick factory.

The brick factory is at the western end of Lanzhou, more than thirty kilometers from the city. Further west is the mountain, the mountain side is Gaolan County, people call it the North Mountain. The North Mountain is very poor, and every time there is a shortage of green and yellow, there are always people coming over the mountain to beg. In the northwest, everything related to the concept of geography is long and narrow: the map of Gansu is like a ruyi, or a big stick bone; Lanzhou is a belt city with two mountains and a river stretching for hundreds of miles; and our factory is nine kilometers long and two kilometers wide narrow one, east-west, also by the mountains and water. The mountain is called Phoenix Mountain, only bare loess and sparse camel thorns on the mountain; the water is the Yellow River, slowly flowing down the slope in the south of the plant.

I was assigned to the Seventh Company. At that time, the whole country was militarized, and the seven companies were actually seven workshops. Each workshop had a large wheel kiln, and all the brick-making processes revolved around the wheel kiln, which was the soul of the workshop.

The wheel kiln is said to have been introduced from Germany, the inventor is called Hoffmann, so the wheel kiln is also called Hoffmann kiln. Overlooking the wheel kiln is a huge oval, the vertical section is trapezoidal, the kiln is connected to the circle, by twenty-four kiln door equal parts. When you enter the kiln, a hot breath of hot air comes over you, and the ground is so hot that you have to stand backwards with your feet.

The brick-making process starts with digging the earth. The workers first make holes in the thick layer of soil and bury explosives to loosen the soil, then push the soil with a wheelbarrow to the entrance of the brick-making machine, where they add coal dust in a certain proportion, transport it into the mixer by conveyor belt, make mud, squeeze it out, and then go to the cutting table. The person who controls the cutting table is usually a girl, who watches over the wire knives as they neatly cut the clay strips into twenty-one bricks and place them in rows on the boards in front of the cutting table. The seven slabs are transported in a cart by the billet pullers to the open-air billet racks, where the women waiting there can stack them.

The racks are long and far away, stretching under the blue sky, sometimes all the way to the river. The women work in pairs, from far away to close together, to stack the bricks in piles of three or seven, and let them dry naturally. The bricks fresh out of the machine room are hot, dark brown and smooth, as fresh and warm as freshly steamed food. Wet billets weigh seven pounds each, and the yarder holds three billets at a time. A brick machine produces 100,000 bricks a day, so if there are ten women working on the billet, each of them has a ton of weight on their hands every day. Sweat soaked through their patched recycled cloth overalls. When there is no billet truck coming, they sit on the straw curtain stacks behind them, laughing loudly and unconcernedly about last night’s work. The straw curtains are used to cover the bricks, and a layer of tiles is pressed on top to protect them from the rain.

In summer, the code of bricks reminds people of the lines in Bai Juyi’s poem “Watching the Mowing of Wheat”: “The foot steams the summer earth, the back burns the light of the hot sky, the force is exhausted without knowing the heat, but it is a pity that the summer day is long.” The machine room sometimes had to organize “high production”, from dawn to midnight, with a daily output of more than 100,000 to 200,000 bricks. Although the “high production” was tiring, but the food was good, there were mutton buns, stuffed skin, fried oil cakes, and sometimes meat stew. In addition, I was young and physically fit, so I didn’t feel overwhelmed.

The dried bricks were pulled into the kiln by the kiln loaders, and yarded from the bottom to the top. The bottom layer of bricks stood up like feet, which was called “legging”. The person who pulls the billet is like holding two books, spine to spine, throwing the billet to the kiln master, and the billet flies to the master like two butterflies, and so it goes up to the top of the kiln. The most important thing is to have “roots” under your feet, and you can only turn around and not move if you stand in one position, because the bricks are hollow like building blocks, and the whole kiln may collapse if you are not careful. Every time the kiln door is installed, there is a middle-aged female worker who follows the door with broken bricks, and the outside is glued with mud.

The fire burner stands at the top of the kiln from a height, pulls the airlock, and throws coal down from the firehole at the top of the kiln. This is a technical work. The kiln master surnamed Li, kind-eyed, Tianshui people. We bought buns from the canteen every day to him, he helped us put on the fire eye baked, baked a thick layer of crispy bun skin, the taste can really give a person to die. “Iron, bricks, tofu grinding” is often said to be the “three hardships”. The work of the brick factory is considered the most important of manual labor, both men and women, young and old, all eat fifty-two pounds of ration, seventy percent is fine grain, and thirty percent is coarse grain.

We new female workers generally could not eat that much, so we left the coarse grains and exchanged them for fine grains with the contract workers from the countryside according to the ratio of two to one. I ate this ration until I returned to Beijing and ate until food stamps were abolished. The bun steamed in the canteen was half a catty, heavy and oval. I learned from the locals, breaking it into small pieces with my hands and putting it in my mouth to eat. “You can’t open your big mouth to bite, the bun is afraid of miles!” Xiao Xie from the same dorm said so. She has a kind of panpsychist religious tendency.

After the bricks are burned, the kiln door is opened to dry and then pulled out by the kiln workers. The so-called wheel kiln, is in the twenty-four kiln door, door after door, circle after circle forward burn, from the beginning of spring until the winter.

At that time, we talked about grasping the revolution and promoting production. We promoted production during the day and grasped the revolution at night. Every night, the workshop had to organize meetings and political studies in the dining hall. People washed off the day’s toil and dust, changed into clean clothes, carried their mazas or small wooden stools, and greeted each other and walked towards the dining hall. Young female workers washed their faces clean and changed into a new recycled cloth work clothes, the collar showed water red, sky blue, apricot yellow or apple green, maybe a shirt, maybe just a fake collar, holding woolen work, or the soles of the cloth shoes are being nabbed. Male workers the most formal clothes is black striped velvet Zhongshan suit, hard pouting hoop on the body, the collar sewn with a white collar has been some yellowing, looks very solemn, solemn and a little coy.

Old workers are drinking brick tea, Fu brick. Shape like a brick, black and brown color, mellow taste. Fu brick is produced in Hubei and prevailing in Shaanxi, Gansu, Ning and Qing new important drink, but also the rough plateau and the gentle Jiangnan limited connection. Old workers say “a day without tea gas, three days without tea to be sick. So they must use the oversized enamel jar on the stove fire to boil the tea before the meeting every day, carrying it to the dining hall. The men here will also knit knotted wool, labor gloves are not to wear, save up and dismantle the knotted pants. So you often see people in the meeting has been knotted a trouser leg on the head and neck, the hand quickly knotted another.

The meeting and study is actually a happy thing, the people sitting above read the newspaper, the people listening below while working on their hands and talking about their parents, and sometimes can not restrain the sound of laughter. There was a time when I was the only one who had the job of reading the newspaper, because I was the only one in the whole company who spoke Mandarin well, and read the newspaper without stuttering.

There were also times when we would discuss topics sent down from above, such as where some cases were sent down, so that we could promote the people’s democratic dictatorship and discuss how to impose sentences. One of them was a man who stole a bicycle, and everyone shouted in a long, drawn-out voice: “Shoot-!” Another case was adultery between an uncle and his sister-in-law, and the audience was even more cheerful, shouting in unison, “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” People didn’t know these people anyway, and didn’t think our opinions would do much to dictate what these people would do.

There was also singing. Usually the song sung before the meeting was “The Three Great Disciplines and Eight Points of Attention”, and the militia company commander started it. One time he started like this: “Three major disciplines and eight points of attention, ready – sing!” So everyone sang along. After singing this line, but how can not sing the next, and do not understand what the problem, repeated several times, only to suddenly realize that the “revolutionary soldiers must remember” the first line to forget, burst out in heartfelt laughter.

Revolution, sometimes it is an entertainment?


As time went on, the workers in the company slowly began to get to know each other. A company has a hundred people, excluding cadres, and can be roughly divided into veteran workers, temporary workers, contract workers and apprentices. The old workers generally came from the countryside to work in the brick factory in the 1960s, and their wages were often four levels, seventy yuan per month; the temporary workers came from downtown Lanzhou, and generally the female workers were two levels of 43.7 yuan per month, and the male workers were three levels of 47 yuan per month; the contract workers came from the nearby poor counties such as Yuzhong, and were generally three levels; the apprentices were assigned directly from school, and now I think they should be the so-called “new The apprentices are directly assigned from the school, and now I think they should be the so-called “new class three”.

Although the wages of apprentices were less than the second class, they were relatively pampered aristocrats in the factory, because they were permanent workers recruited according to the national plan, and were all arranged in technical jobs such as mechanics and electricians. Soon, the factory set up the Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Team, rehearsing the full-length revolutionary modern Peking Opera “Harbour”, almost all of these people joined the propaganda team, and then almost all of them joined the organs as cadres. My monthly salary at that time was $43.7, and my ambition was to earn $70 in the future.

There were very few Lanzhou locals among the old workers, most of them came from all over the country, forming different “ethnic groups” according to their regions. Luo Laifu, the section leader of the engine room (called platoon leader in those days), was from Suxian County, Anhui Province. According to the “Suxian District Labor and Personnel Journal (1991 Draft for Comments)”, the local society was under great pressure of employment in the early days of liberation because it was the hardest hit in the Yellow Plain, and because the Huaihai Campaign had a big battle in Suxian. In 1950, the local government first organized production self-help, and then in 1953 requested large enterprises in Lanzhou and other places to recruit more than 1,000 workers in Su County, placed in the key projects of the First Five-Year Plan, Lan refining, Lanhua and other infrastructure construction and building materials industry, and then involved nearly 10,000 Su County people to depend on their relatives for employment and support. When the Great Leap Forward, the Cebu County Labor Bureau again organized thousands of immigrants to Lanzhou and the west to support the border, followed by the Great Famine in which more people came to join their relatives and friends, finally forming at least 30,000 Cebu County people settled in Lanzhou (and the western corridor line). I think it is more likely that Master Luo came to Lanzhou in the year of the famine, because his son’s nickname was “Lanzhou”, and after I returned to Beijing in 1978, “Lanzhou” came to visit me as a soldier in Beijing. He must have been born around 1960.

My billet maker was Yang, a native of Gangu. Now that I think about it, she was in her early thirties, with a pretty face, and her eyebrows looked like the movie star Zhou Xun, but without Zhou Xun’s quirkiness. Master Yang and his wife both work in the factory, and his lover is a veteran worker in the machine shop. Like them, both of them work in the factory, the old workers usually live in the family courtyard. Most of them sleep on the kang, so she and other female workers who live in the family dormitory often take a bundle of broken straw curtains or other burnable things back to “fill the kang” when they leave work every day.

The word “kang-filling” here refers not only to the action, but also to all the materials that could be put in the holes of the kang to make the kang hot. At dusk in winter, when the curtain falls, the small village farmhouse-like family home is shrouded in thick smoke and faint sadness, which makes people yearn for the word “home” for no reason. There was often the smell of “kang-fill” on the clothes of Yang’s masters, and I still find that smell very friendly.

Xiao Xie, who was in the same dormitory with me, was from Lanzhou. People said that her husband was arrested for some crime during the “one fight, three revolts”, so she came out to do this job. Her dress is very sophisticated, after work wear a dark green wool beige top and pants with threads, indeed the white collar of the shirt is always vertical, looks different. For some reason, her two children called her sister instead of mother. Whenever I think of her, I remember the little five-year-old girl with round eyes and a doll’s hair darting toward her from afar, shouting “Sister!” Xiao Xie was a Hui, and her daughter’s name was Sofia.

Xi’er was the girl sitting behind the cutting table. “What a good girl!” That’s what people say. Her family is in Lanzhou city, she has a melon face, single eyelids, eyebrows and eyes slightly upward, her face is always full of smiles, “smiling and looking forward to it,” is a reflection of her. Xie’er has been deaf since she was a child, so she has to speak extra loudly to her, and she will also ask and answer people loudly.

Xie’er is very diligent, every day she comes to the machine room early to grease the machine and screw the wire. Twisting the wire is not a simple task, the two ends of the loop must be twisted into a twist, so as to have flexibility, not easy to break. When the work started, she put her long braid on her head, wore a work cap, and her waist was as flexible as a weasel, and sat on the high chair behind the cutting table with great vigor, blocking the mud bar, stepping on the machine, hanging the wire, with quick eyes and quick hands. The boys pulling the billets out by the truckload, and quickly pulling the empty car back, sitting on the legs of the cart to roll a cigarette, waiting in line to pull the next car. They watched Xi’er’s coordinated and graceful movements, and sometimes forgot to go forward.

A contract worker named Lao Wei began to come to the machine room early every day to help Xie’er twist the wire. At first, the ends of the wire he twisted were not twisted, but one was wrapped around the other. When Xi’er took a look at it, he laughed so hard that his eyes became crescent-shaped and slapped his hand on Lao Wei’s back, shouting, “Wrong Sha, not like this!” Old un is actually not old, very tall and fit, black and curly hair, thick eyebrows under a pair of eyes of a very light color. “A man of color.” This thought came to me when I first saw him. Because Heier, the workers are jokingly called old Wei “big spring”.

One day after lunch, Xi’er did not come to work for half a day, and no one knew where she had gone. Luo’s platoon leader was furious and sat behind the cutting machine by himself. When we had several carts of billets, Xi’er came up from the bottom of the slope. She came up to my billet rack and I saw her face was extraordinarily rosy and her eyes were extraordinarily bright as she said to me, “We are, that way, so good.” I still don’t know what kind of “that” she meant.

One day not long after that, when we were studying in the dining hall at night, the militia commander led someone to tie up Lao Wei from the dormitory where Xi’er lived, saying that both of them were wearing only their underwear. Then later, Xi’er did not come to work, I heard that married, and old Wei from the engine room was sent to the kiln.


Soon after I joined the factory, I was taken out of the workshop to work on propaganda. My first work was to hang the slogan “Industry learns Daqing” on the company’s gate as requested by the company commander. I found some discarded gasoline barrel lids, painted them yellow with yellow paint, and wrote “Industry learns Daqing” on them with red paint, and the kiln masters helped me fix them on the gate after the night shift.

By that time, I had already read a lot of books and thought about many issues. For example, I knew that according to Marx in Capital, a production method like a brick factory should be called a “workshop” instead of a “factory”; I also thought that the Daqing model was not universally applicable in the industrial system. But this kind of thinking doesn’t find an audience here, and it’s much easier to write big slogans than billets.

In addition to writing slogans I used a lot of paint to paint the whole mountain wall of a row of houses red and painted two groups of very heroic workers on it. My paintings still make me feel ashamed when I think of them. Once in a while, the factory would hold a big criticism meeting, and the company asked me to write a big criticism of someone from another workshop whom I did not know. The speeches were usually made by the company leaders who read from my script to the meeting, and they often mispronounced words, but no one listened carefully.

Finally, one day my good days were over.

That day, the company commander went to the factory meeting, came back and gathered some people muttering behind closed doors, and then I saw the off-the-job apprentice, the shop group secretary Xiao Fang closed the door in writing big words, he vacated his dormitory, those big words were later posted and hung in his dormitory, dense, overwhelming. It was hard for him to write so many brushstrokes. That dormitory is next door to me. They first organized the workers to see, and then the company’s political officer stepped in and called me over to see it too.

The content of the large-character poster was very sensational, sternly pursuing my association with a certain organization, but I was frank. I was afraid that I had to fill out a form to join an organization, and I had never heard of that organization, let alone filled out any form to join one. In retrospect, I think it was the “May 16” purge in Beijing that affected me. People from Beijing kept coming to the factory to look for me, including Xu Yifei from Tsinghua University, Hao Ren from the 35th Middle School, and Feng Bao-years from the Ministry of Education.

The factory was flattered by the fact that I was such an important person, and was also overwhelmed by these external investigations, so I was suspended from writing materials, and wrote in the dormitory with the windows closed, and could not go out casually, nor could I meet random guests. The good thing is that there is no acquaintance to that place to find me.

Perhaps because the Cultural Revolution when I was still relatively young to many things do not have more understanding, so the memory of the fragment often does not dry political bottom matter. To Xu Yifei, I dug deep and did not remember what has the value of exposing the clues. Hao Ren did remind me of one, because I heard that he wanted to become a film actor, so a cross-hearted uncovered. In those days, wanting to be a movie actor could not be said to be a sin, the road in front of us people was to receive re-education of the poor peasants, he was fighting against the movement of going to the mountains and going to the countryside.

Feng Baotian is a very important person in my life. She was my mother’s best friend when she was a high school student in Beiman before the liberation, and later became a common classmate of my parents in the advanced class of Peking University, and then went to the liberated areas together. During the Cultural Revolution, she was a Russian translator in the data room of the academic department. My parents were away from Beijing, so my Aunt Bao became my “guardian in Beijing”, which is recorded in my file and is as undeniable as my blood relationship.

At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, Auntie Bao-ye took me in to live with her, and she was an elder and a friend to me. I was as close to her daughter Liu Gang and Liu Yang as sisters, and I felt no less affection for her and Uncle Liu Shan than I did for my parents. In October 1968, she was detained by another faction of the school division and was beaten to death in mid-November.

Liu Gang told me that my mother went to work at the Ministry of Education that day and never came back. The source said that those people made her take off her woolen pants and then brought her to the law school. After that, they put a wooden board on her chest and several people stepped on it, causing her heart to break and she died.

My heart hurts like a knife when I write this. Auntie Bao was “charged” with “May 16” and was one of the organizers of the “May 16”. Because Uncle Liu Shan worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and her family lived in the dormitory of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a large number of cadres of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were implicated by her in the purge of the “May 16” movement. The “May 16” movement had a large number of Foreign Ministry cadres implicated by her. I frankly admitted to the task force my relationship with Auntie Bao-ye, but no amount of pressure on me could provide the kind of fictitious testimony they needed. That was my bottom line.

Rumors have been circulating that Feng Baotian had six siblings, named Zhong, Hua, Min, Guo, Wan, and Yian, and that her father was a famous big businessman in northern China, all recorded in the annotations to Mao Zedong’s Selected Works, saying that these were the reasons for her being fixed (or, one says, suicided). I read an article by Mr. Shao Yanxiang in “Essays” last year that said the same thing, and have not yet been able to find an opportunity to clarify it to him.

The Feng family actually had only four daughters, Feng Baozhong, Feng Baoguo, Feng Baowan and Feng Baosian, and all four sisters participated in the student movement. Baozhong, a classmate of Pu Anxiu, later married Zhang Shubai, the Second Secretary of the Embassy of the Republic of China in Switzerland, and went abroad with her husband. After the founding of New China, Zhang Shubai left his post and moved to Hong Kong to work for the Reader’s Digest (Far East) Publishing Company, where Lin Yutang’s second daughter, Lin Taiyi, was editor-in-chief, and worked with Zhao Yuanren’s daughter. After Zhang Shubai’s departure from Switzerland, the new Chinese receptionist took up residence in this official residence in Bern. A few years later, one of the new Chinese diplomats posted here was blessed with a son, the child who would become the poet Yang Lian. Yang Lian grew up there as a child and did not leave the residence until he was about to study.

Baoguo attended high school during the Japanese occupation of Beiping and was expelled from school because he always clashed with Japanese students, then went to Shanghai to attend St. John’s, an American-run school, and graduated and went to the United States. After joining the revolution, Baowan changed his name to Jiang Changfeng, which means “to ride the long wind to break the waves”.

The Feng family’s grandfather was Pang Dunmin, whose wife was Pang Feng Weaving, but Pang Feng Weaving was not the biological mother of the four sisters. After joining the revolution, Pao once gave herself the name “Pang”, which she did not call herself, in remembrance of her biological father. Pang Dunmin, a native of Suzhou, was a bacteriological pathologist who was the dean of the College of Agriculture at Peking University during the Japanese occupation and wrote books such as Pathogenic Bacteriology. Pang Dunmin was the aunt cousin of linguist Zhao Yuanren, who was an expert in phonetics, literature and history, and a collector, and he had friends with Yu Pingbo, Wang Fengchun, Zhu Jiayou, Yu Zhenfei, and Wang Shixiang, a great collector. When I was a child, I saw many beautiful folding fans with “Dunmin” withdrawals at my aunt Bao-yeon’s house, but they were later scattered to nowhere.

After the death of Auntie Bao, Liu Gang went to Shanxi to join the army, and Uncle Liu Shan took Liu Yang, who was still young, to the field. When I went to her house in the winter of 1969, it was already empty. The following year, Uncle Liu Shan came to Lanzhou as an admissions officer of Changsha Railway Institute and found me and my mother. That night the three of us sat under the dim light and talked about the tragic death of my Aunt Bao-years-old, without words but a thousand lines of tears. The cause of Auntie Bao’s death has always been a mystery to me. She was an honest and enthusiastic person, with a simple and kind nature, and had no possibility of being an enemy of anyone except for the “stand in line” during the Cultural Revolution.

I once read the recollections of the heads of several organizations in the academic department, but no one mentioned her, and the fourteen named assailants were not prosecuted in any way, nor was there a single word in the official eulogy for Auntie Bao’s rehabilitation after the Cultural Revolution. There is only one clue in the information about “May 16”: Zhou Enlai once said in a speech that “Feng Baotian was a bad person”.

Perhaps in those days, such a sentence was enough to kill people? The death of an innocent woman at the age of 40, without a trace of her bones, may not have been a big deal in China, but it left an eternal wound in the hearts of the people who loved her most.

The “May 16” investigation was conducted over a period of years. I don’t remember when the investigation stopped, but from the notebooks in which the masses spoke when I was criticized, I can see that it lasted at least until March 1972. But I never understood why the investigation started, and then why the investigation stopped when the investigation was going well. It was only in the past two years that I heard Qian Wenjun from Guangxi say that “May 16” was actually unwarranted, and that old Zhou wanted to use the name to find some bird to take responsibility for the losses of the Cultural Revolution and to destroy the rebels as a social force of dissidence.

However, when the investigation was completed, Chen Bodha, who was in charge of the investigation, was purged, followed by the escape of Lin Biao. Since they were on top of the thunder, the investigation was dropped. The first thing you need to do is to get a good idea of what you’re doing.


Now I searched all the words in my head, how can not describe the color when I was in the brick factory, the poverty, the gray, the kind of depression and struggle in the yellow earth and blue sky. My dormitory was on the bank of the river, the easternmost one in a row of houses facing south and north. The south window of the dormitory is facing the Yellow River, the other side of the river is Lan Lian Lanhua’s several large chimneys towering into the clouds, day and night non-stop with a roaring flame, brilliant and glorious, like a magnificent painting. The Yellow River flows slowly under the glow of the fire, day and night.

In front of my dormitory there is a date palm tree, that date palm tree often intruded into my dreams for no reason, let me haunt. The date palm blooms in April and May, with tiny, goose-yellow flowers dotted with silvery-gray foliage. The most memorable is the fragrance of the date palm flower, which is a ubiquitous, refreshing and refreshing aroma.

After my suspension from work, I went back to work, but instead of making billets, I went to the kiln-loading class, which was full of male workers. There was a rightist, a historical counterrevolutionary and some other bad guys besides me. Before me, there was an old man from Shanxi named Ren Zhiliang who suffered there. Ren Zhiliang was the second brother of the American scientist Ren Zhigong, who visited China in 1972 as the first Chinese American scientist delegation after the thaw in Sino-American relations.

I worked in the kiln loading class with the male workers pulling carts, moving brick billets together, and even yarding the kiln, which was something no female worker had ever done before. I worked very hard and seldom spoke to anyone, like an ascetic punishing himself.

On the Mid-Autumn Festival that year, Luo’s platoon leader and his partner, Luo’s mother, asked me to come to their home for dinner, and Luo’s mother put all the sugar and oil in the flour and steamed it into moon cakes for me. During that time I often went to Master Luo’s house to help his son Lanzhou review his homework and bathe his daughter Ugly. I met people in his house who came to beg in the northern mountains, and Luo’s mother let them sit down in the courtyard and brought out rice to eat together, with a kindness that could not be overstated.

In my most depressed and depressing days, my master Yang made a special trip to the dormitory to see me, with her strong Gangu accent said to me: “child nothing, the meal to eat, the work to work, we still have to live miles. You have studied and know how to read and write, there is a long way to go.” Old Li, who fired the kiln, still helped me bake steamed buns every day, and his mother-in-law, a beautiful woman, who worked in my class gluing the kiln door, would bring me food such as batter, sweet embryo, and gray beans to eat together whenever she made them. Sister Meng of the canteen would serve more dishes in my bowl. The contract workers in Yuzhong would give me a hand when I was pulling the cart up the slope. They didn’t care what I had done and what I was thinking and what kind of political ambitions and ideas I had, but they just thought this girl was miserable.

Many people have given me love and care while they themselves live in even deeper misery. My masters’ families had no boxes and their children were in rags. I saw with my own eyes the old uncle Zhang, who was in charge of the conveyor belt, having one of his arms strangled by the motor belt, my fellow dormitory member Xiu Silkworm having half of his finger cut off by the steel wire on the adobe cutting machine, and a contract worker in the excavation class being buried under the collapsed earth and dying on the spot. There are many more stories, blood and tears, which I can’t bear to tell.

I don’t remember who came to wake me up in the morning when I was working on the billets, but I remember clearly the days when I woke up in the kiln-loading class and every day when it was white in the east, a bird chirped in the branches of the date palm tree.

I had never seen the bird before, and I didn’t know its name, except that it had chosen a branch in the date palm tree where it would build its nest. “The wren nests in the deep forest, but on one branch”, I think that was a wren.

I am also a wren. In those first years of the 1970s, the brick factory was my one branch. This branch gave me care and tolerance when I was in trouble, so that I could have a branch to cling to and a nest to perch on. My Lanzhou, my brick factory, my date palm tree, my workers and my masters!


I heard that she had a second child and was getting stretched to the limit, and was often beaten by her husband. This time she lived with me in the same dormitory, and she no longer sat at the cutting table, but was assigned to make billets. Her clothes were no longer clean and flat, her eyes were no longer moving, her face was no longer rosy, and her lapels were speckled with what looked like milk stains.

After working in the kiln, because of the high temperature, I had two pounds of oil, two pounds of sugar and a few pounds of meat per month as well as other (he) workers in the kiln. I took the oil to the canteen and asked the master to cook it for me, so I could pour a little into the dishes every day when I ate. I remember that day was a weekend, I came back from the morning shift to see Xi’er was packing up her things to go home. I saw with a sharp eye that there was a half glass of clear oil on the windowsill next to her bed, and then I looked at my bed, and there was only a small bottle of oil.

Blood rushed to my head all of a sudden.

“Steal!” That sinful word came to my mind all of a sudden, and I couldn’t think of anything else, angling my face up to stare at her, and I think my gaze was probably like a knife then. I think my eyes were like knives at the time. Joy’s face changed, first to yellow and then to gray. I called out to the political officer who was passing by the window and spoke to him without a word. My voice must have been very harsh at the time.

Although this incident did not cause any consequences to Xi’er, but in the subsequent decades, has been a lingering shadow in my heart and can not heal the pain. It was this incident that made me feel so ashamed of myself, compared to the criticism I received during the “May 16” purge.

If it were possible, I would like to say, “I am sorry, Xi’er!

October 2008 at my apartment in Tiantongyuan, Beijing

From The Seventies, edited by Bei Dao and Li Tuo, Sanlian Bookstore, 2009