Shanghai Life and Death (27)

Some of my daughter’s friends are high school teachers. Because they also wore a red armband, they could sneak into my house without anyone noticing. Old Zhao also took advantage of the gap when the Red Guards temporarily stopped tormenting my family to go out to visit his own friends or mingle among the pedestrians on the street to hear the news. The cook’s son, a worker, often visited his father and brought some information about his factory. The things they told us were incredible. The Shanghai Municipal Party Committee and the municipal government were so hesitant and timid in carrying out their functions. This abnormal situation made me wonder if the Cultural Revolution had other purposes than to deprive the bourgeoisie of their extra means of living and to cleanse the ranks of cadres and intellectuals.

One day, a friend of Man Ping’s, Xiao Xu, who was a teacher, came to see her at my house. Manping happened to be at the studio. Xiao Xu told me that the Red Guards had destroyed the tops of two towers of the Catholic Church in Shanghai, which was a special symbol of Shanghai. He also said that one night, the Red Guards stormed the Shanghai Library and destroyed a large number of valuable books. When they rushed to the museum, because they could not open the strong iron door, they rushed to the curator’s house, pulled the old man up from his deathbed and held a criticism meeting on the spot.

“The old man was taken to the hospital, and some said he was dead. Those Red Guards are getting more and more savage. I think you’d better take Man Ping and flee to Hong Kong.” He said.

“Do you think Man-ping will agree?” I asked him this because he happened to be at my house once on the eve of my departure for a trip to Hong Kong. Both he and my daughter said they would never want to go to Hong Kong and be second-class citizens in the colonies.

“The situation is not right now. After the Cultural Revolution began, there is no future for young people who are not from the working class in China. In the past, as long as we worked harder than young people of working-class origin, and did not expect to be promoted by the leaders, at least I could still live a happy life. But from now on, we will be reduced to people like the untouchables in India, and our children, children’s children, will be oppressed forever. Now, the only way out is to escape. You have many friends overseas, why don’t you take Man-ping and escape?” He egged me on desperately.

“I think it’s too late now. You know, the crime of smuggling people to Hong Kong is very serious, and will be sentenced to ten to twenty years in prison.” I said.

“It’s not too late. I’ve made some secret observations and the whole railroad system is in chaos now. There is no need to buy a ticket and no need for an immigration permit. The Red Guards are out in droves, just squeeze onto the train, and no one will question you. I’ve been to the stations and docks and there are no ticket checkers at all, and no one is on duty.”

“I think if I get on the train, I’ll immediately be recognized and pulled off and beaten up badly.”

“You can disguise yourself as a Red Guard. I will sew the red armband for you and write the words ‘Red Guard’ on your behalf. I have already sewn many of these red armbands for my students.” He said.

“I think I’m too old to disguise as a Red Guard again.” “You just have to cut your hair short, take a copy of Chairman Mao’s quotations in your hand and pretend to read them with full attention. You can also wear a hat to cover your hair. If someone interrogates you, you just say you are a teacher. As for Man Ping, she can pass as a Red Guard.” He sounded a bit anxious.

I shook my head again. He persuaded again, “It’s silly not to try. Anyway, when Man Ping comes back, you have to talk to her about it.”

(After I left China in 1980, I met Hsu in Hong Kong. He told me that he was ready to take the train to Hong Kong, but near the border, he turned back. Later, however, he swam to Macau. After spending a few years there, he went to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong he was frugal and saved some money. By 1980, he was a shareholder and one of the owners of a toy factory in Kowloon. The products of that factory were sold all over the world. (Now that things are better in Shanghai, he plans to take a trip to Shanghai to visit his mother.

In the bathroom, I heard someone banging on the door like crazy, and when I got to the escalator, I collided with a girl of about fifteen. She was dressed in a khaki uniform with a military cap buckled squarely on her head. The brim of the hat pressed right up to her eyebrows, so her eyes had to peer up at me from under the brim. Around her slender waist was tied a broad belt with a lithium metal buckle, and in her hand she held a leather whip.

“You’re the class enemy here, aren’t you? Look how comfortable you are! You have a round, fat face and a pair of eyes. It is the blood, sweat and hard work of the workers and peasants that have fattened you up. Now that the world has changed, you must pay for your crimes! Come here!” From her accent, I knew she was a Beijing Red Guard.

I followed her down the stairs. In the aisle downstairs, several young men and women in the same attire as her were standing by the door of the large dining room. She walked into the dining room, and I followed.

“Kneel down!” One of the young men bellowed, while hitting me on the back with a stick. Another young man raised his hand and broke the glass of the cupboard door. He continued to swing the stick in all directions, once hitting me on the back of the knee. Then he yanked my hands and forced me to my knees, and I was thrown down.

“Where’s the cash?” One of them asked.

“The previous group of Red Guards took it.”

“Took it all?”

“They left me a few hundred yuan for living expenses.”

“Where is it?”

“In the drawer of my desk.”

The young man kicked me in the leg as he walked past me and up the stairs with the others. The young woman with the leather whip in her hand stayed and looked at me. She couldn’t stop waving the whip in her hand, almost hitting me every time. The Red Guards came downstairs with the drawers and dumped all the bills on the dining room table. They made me face the wall, but I could still hear them counting the bills.

There was another staggering of footsteps, and I thought the door might have been open all along.

Soon I heard another man’s voice ordering Chiu and Chen’s mother and the cook to go into the living room. Then I heard him say to another man, “Take them all upstairs for questioning.”

The Red Guards poured into the living room first and then into the dining room.

“Here she is.” Someone said.

“Now you have to go and let us deal with her ourselves.” The man who gave the order said again.

The Red Guards then left, beating the walls and furniture with sticks and whips. They slammed the door so viciously that the house looked like it was going to collapse.