Shanghai Life and Death(23)

“Do you eat tomatoes?” I asked.

“Sure.” She replied. In Shanghai, tomatoes are very common. At the height of the season, they cost only a few cents per pound. Shanghai people use it as both a vegetable and a fruit.

“Okay. A tomato is a foreign food, brought in by foreigners. So is watermelon, which was imported by the Persian state via the Silk Road. Let’s say foreign books again, Marx is German. If everyone did not read books written by foreigners, then there would be no international communist movement in the world. So even in ancient times, when transportation was closed and undeveloped, it was impossible for any country to keep its ideas and materials within its own borders, especially in modern times. I am absolutely certain that the fact that all Chinese high school students have formed the Red Guards is known to the whole world.”

“Is that so?” She said, seeming to open her mind a little. It was very clear that I had opened up a new horizon for her. After a flutter, she added, “You’re very persuasive, did you go to college?”

I had a mouthful of toast in my mouth, so I could only nod in reply. Her thoughts seemed to linger on something while she murmured, “After I graduated from high school, I hoped to go to college, but now there is no college. All of us youths are going to be soldiers.”

“You’re a girl, you don’t have to be a soldier.”

“A girl has to be a soldier even more.” She seemed very unhappy.

“Anyway, there’s no war now, so you don’t have to worry at all.” I tried to reassure her.

She looked nervously at the door and gave a wary glance to the cook, who was bowing over the sink to wash the dishes, then put her hand on my arm and whispered, “Don’t say that. Something will happen if you talk like that. Our great leader has long taught us to prepare for war and to fight to the end against the U.S. imperialists, the Soviet revisionists and the KMT reactionaries in Taiwan. You can’t counter the Great Leader’s call by preaching the theory of extinguishing the war like this.”

I smiled at her and nodded my head in acceptance.

When the kitchen door opened and a male Red Guard poked his head in and asked if the cook had emptied the refrigerator, the girl quickly pulled her hand back from my arm and stood up. Although the young man had already left the kitchen, she still deliberately raised her throat and said loudly, “You are a class enemy, I won’t listen to your fallacious arguments.”

However, as she turned to leave the kitchen, she turned back to me and smiled sweetly.

The cook at the sink said, “Not all of them young people are fools and idiots!”

Remembering that his youngest child, Yu, happened to be in high school, I asked him if he had joined the Red Guards as well.

“Yes, how could he not have joined? He had been criticized for not taking a firm stand. Besides, as a youngster, you have to follow the example of others. But every time he came back, my wife always searched his pockets to see if he had taken anything from others.”

“Is there a lot of this kind of thing about taking people’s things?”

“Of course there is. Inevitably, some people have itchy hands and take things by the hand. Some parents even encourage their own children to take things from others. But I don’t want my own children to become thieves.” He said.

“What about the children from bourgeois families?”

“Naturally, the situation is not good. Some of them are rendered homeless and have to clear the line with their parents. Sometimes people turn on each other and become ruthless. There are a lot of people who commit suicide, too!”

Leaving the kitchen, I noticed an extra middle-aged stranger. He wasn’t here yesterday. His self-righteous demeanor made me guess that he belonged to the head of the group. He was probably quite qualified, because apparently he was in his forties.

“I’m the city liaison,” he introduced himself, “and my mission is to check on the revolutionary actions of the Red Guards. Abuse you?”

I was surprised and pleased to hear this. At last the city government had taken an interest in the matter. Little did I know that this moderate action was immediately and fiercely opposed by the extreme leftists in the center. This liaison organization was soon written off. But at the moment this comrade, who looked so imposing, did not even know that he himself was already a mudblood.

“Oh, no,” I said, “they follow Chairman Mao’s policy strictly for the revolutionary movement. They allowed me to eat and sleep.” The Red Guards who were watching from the sidelines were all smiling.

He began to speak: “That’s good. The aim of the proletariat is not to destroy your flesh; we are trying to reform your mind and save your soul.” Although the ultra-leftists all pride themselves on being thoroughgoing atheists, they quite like to talk about the soul. In the cultural revolution, the “soul” was often mentioned. On several occasions, Lin Biao, the Minister of National Defense, in a speech to the Red Guards on behalf of Mao Zedong at the Tiananmen Tower, asked them to touch their souls and transform themselves in the spirit of the revolution. Since no one could ask them to explain exactly what the “human soul” was, the journalists had to take great pains to relay the speeches.

The liaison officer said, raising his hand in an arc in mid-air: “You and your daughter have nine rooms, with four bathrooms. And the housing in Shanghai, how tight! Wood is scarce outside, and the people lack even the necessary furniture, but you? Every side room is carpeted and full of either mahogany or teak furniture, is this fair? Is it fair that you wear a satin and fur coat and have a bed covered with a duck down quilt and three servants to wait on you?”

He stared at me for a while, found that I did not have any intention to argue with him, and went on to say; “As I have just said, our ultimate goal is not to destroy your flesh, we allow you to have enough household clothes to maintain your normal living needs, but not more than the standard of the average ordinary worker.”

He seemed to be waiting again for my reaction, and I still did not say a word. He added, “It’s still warm, but winter will come. The Red Guards will take you upstairs and prepare a box of clothes for you, so you can leave some winter clothes behind. Coal is tight now, and we can’t burn heat here anymore.”

He walked into the dining room and closed the door behind him. I followed the Red Guards to the third floor and picked some winter clothes from the big closet. At this point, a male Red Guard, who had also participated in the raid and had left early in the morning, hurried upstairs in three steps and said to the female Red Guard who was watching me sort out my clothes, “Odd re, do you know what happened to my house when I came home? The Red Guards were raiding my house. It’s not right for them, my father and grandmother were workers.”

It was really strange. We couldn’t help but all stop and listen to him.

“My aunt, who lived in Nancheng during the war, let the Japanese burn the house down to the ground. After the war, she borrowed a sum of money to set up a fruit stall. Because she ran it well, she was able to support her family. Two years ago, she stopped setting up the fruit stall because she was old. Now, she is also known as a bourgeoisie, because she runs a private business. Because her children are out of town, she lives with us, and now, we are being copied because she is bourgeois.”

The boy was so aggrieved that he was on the verge of tears. This was a great shame for the Red Guards, the third generation of a working family with a strong sense of superiority. This incident was also an eye-opener for me. Naturally, the bourgeoisie, indeed, is omnipresent, but not everyone can be called bourgeois. If a fruit vendor was included in the bourgeois category, then the Red Guards in Shanghai would have had a hard time.

Many of the Red Guards came over to inquire about the news the boy had brought, and I noticed that two of them had sneaked away. Apparently, they had gone back to check their homes to see if they were included in the raid.

Thinking of my daughter, I asked the Red Guards to leave her winter coat behind.

“She is not the subject of our revolutionary action. We won’t go to her room.” They answered me.

“But her winter coat is not in her room. It is summer and her clothes are collected here.” I told them.

The young man whose house had been raided became gentle, apparently because of his tangible experience. He offered; “Let’s just leave two umbrella boxes for her.”

My daughter and I were allowed to keep one suitcase each and a canvas bag for clothes and bedding.