Shanghai Life and Death(52)

I was ordered several times to attend special classes in the arraignment room and to be interrogated by the guards of the MC. These guards were domineering because they were highly regarded by the MC. Not all of the prisoners attended such classes, but only a select number of them were “chosen” to attend. I don’t know if it was because we were the worst offenders or the most stubborn in our thinking. The guards often used the occasion to insult me, calling me a shameful “landlord” or “imperialist lapdog”. They attacked my class origin, cursed me for working for the imperialists in Asia, called my confession “resistance to reform,” and so on. They besieged me with a series of questions such as these, but did not give me a chance to explain. They also said that I was about to be shot, and that I would be imprisoned for life in Detention Center No. 1.

At each trial, they kept going on and on, and I had no choice but to listen to them. After a few rounds of this, I realized that they were only doing this to show that they were the real leftists and that I was just a prop in their dance. So I came to the conclusion that even military guards, who were relied on by their superiors, were not sure of their own safety during the Cultural Revolution, which was characterized by “daring suspicion”, because some of the party leaders who had been relied on for years were instantly branded as “fighting the red flag against the red flag”. “The “hidden enemy within the party”.

One day, we were escorted to the playground, and as we walked out of the women’s prison I saw the former instructor Liang and some other people tearing down the flower beds. I didn’t find this puzzling. Because the day before, I read in the newspaper that Chairman Mao had said that raising flowers and planting grass would sap the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses. It also said that Chairman Mao only planted some apple trees and sunflowers in the Zhongnanhai garden because they had practical economic value. This shows that during the Cultural Revolution, the cult of the individual had developed to such a serious extent. Every word he said, whether it was important or not, was immediately taken as an “instruction”. On the contrary, if there were no instructions from Mao, nothing could be done.

There were several men and women cleaning the driveway and taking buckets of water to the kitchen. From their appearance and rude demeanor, I judged that they were under supervised labor. I knew that they were intellectuals of the Party in the detention center, like the generation of Liang’s instructors, who were here to receive such labor. Mao Zedong had said that intellectuals could only be reformed through hard physical labor.

A few years later, I heard that thousands of people, during the Cultural Revolution, were ordered to give up their jobs in the city and go to the countryside to be re-educated through labor. Even the intellectuals who remained in the city worked as general laborers in their respective units. Under this measure, physicians went down to the wards to empty urinals and toilets, professors cleaned toilets in university buildings, and artists and musicians built walls and roads. While they worked, they also had to attend various criticism sessions and political study classes, where they had to explain their so-called “crimes” and humiliate themselves. It is no exaggeration to say that the Cultural Revolution was unprecedented in its humiliation and trampling of intellectuals by the ultra-leftists. It completely destroyed the historical tradition of respect for intellectuals in China. At that time, all over the country, anyone who read any book other than the four volumes of Mao’s Selected Works was in danger of being accused of opposing Chairman Mao.

I was escorted to the playground, and the guards asked me to pull the weeds off the ground. It was the middle of winter, and only a few tufts of weeds were growing at the foot of the wall facing the sun. But the ground was frozen solid, so I couldn’t pull the weeds with my bare hands. When one of the guards roamed to my side, he kicked a small pile of weeds at my feet and shouted, “Why did you pull only this little bit? Why didn’t you pull it up by the roots?”

“I don’t have the tools to pull weeds.”

“What good are your hands! You’re just lazy.” He said, he flew a foot to the pile of weeds, so that the grass scattered all over the sky.

I straightened up and instantly felt black and dizzy, but struggled to hobble back to my cell after him.

I found the door to my cell open and two guards standing in the hallway. My sheets, bedding, and blankets were littered on the dusty floor. When the guards saw me walk in, they grabbed me by the front of my cotton jacket and pushed me hard into the cell.

“Unbutton your jacket!” She barked. After I unbuttoned it, she ripped my jacket off from behind me and threw it to the floor, then grabbed me by the shoulders and pushed me into the corner of the room, facing the wall. I stood there, coughing and shaking.

“Pull down your pants!” She checked the cotton jacket and then yelled again.

“Can you please wait for me to put my cotton jacket back on? I’m already coming down with a bad cold.”

“You’re still so spoiled! Life in prison didn’t help you much, did it? You still have that accent. You won’t freeze to death if I try to take off my jacket and pants. Take them off!”

I coughed and sneezed as she searched my pants. When she was done she threw the pants to the floor again and started searching me. She then tore off all the handkerchiefs I had taped to the wall along the bed, and deliberately stepped on my bedding. She also threw my blindfold on the floor and dragged it around with her foot, then kicked it out of the cell door and went out to lock it behind her. Next, I heard her opening the next cell door and aggressively yelling at the prisoners there, “Come here!”

I picked up the cotton jacket and pants and put them on, and then cleaned up and washed the objects scattered all over the floor. The next day when the dry rice was delivered, I saved some rice and used the hand paper to re-paste the walls. I cherished the rice, because now every grain of rice is very valuable to me, I have to rely on it to fight for survival. I had to wait until Sunday to borrow sewing needles and scissors from the guards to make another blindfold.

Searching the cells had become a regular prison regulation. It was done from time to time by military women guards and the like. I had put handkerchiefs on my walls several times and sewn several pieces of blindfolds. I counted out the grains of rice one by one and tried to use them sparingly, not wasting a single one when I was putting up the handkerchiefs.

I couldn’t sleep because of the all-night coughing fits. My head hurt like it was splitting. The next morning, I could hardly get up. I went to the small window and called out, “Report!”

One of the more amiable guards opened the small window.

“I’m sick. Can I see a doctor?” I demanded.

She handed me a thermometer. After a few minutes took it out and looked at it and said, “You’re running a fever, a pretty high fever.” She gave me two aspirin and instructed me to drink more boiled water. I kept waiting for the doctor, but he didn’t come. When that watchman was off duty, I asked to see the doctor again.

She hesitated for a moment and said, “That doctor has gone to the countryside for re-education. I don’t know when he can come back. Maybe another doctor will come to replace her. You can report to the guards tomorrow. If you don’t feel well, you can go to bed now.” She gave me two more aspirin.

It was good enough to give me permission to lie down, but I had a splitting headache, chills all around me, shivering, and I knew my body temperature was still rising.