Shanghai Life and Death(55)

“Don’t be afraid, I’m not going to report it. You know, it’s only right that we prisoners protect each other.” She said to me. After a pause, she asked again, “You have a lung disease? This is the pulmonary ward, so we have better food. But tomorrow I’m going back to my cell because I’ve stopped spitting up blood. When my condition worsens and I vomit blood again, they will let me come here to recuperate and get some special injections for lung disease. They are not too tired to treat us. Because they don’t want us to die either.” With that, she sighed deeply.

“It’s unfortunate that you have lung disease ……,” I sympathized with her illness.

“In a place like this, everyone will sooner or later suffer from this disease, that is unavoidable, we cross-contaminated each other; think of it, twenty people crammed into one cell, sleeping close to each other, how can we not be contagious? The food is so bad and the workload is so heavy!”

“You’re going to work? What will you do?” I asked her curiously.

“Sewing. Ten hours or more a day. Six days a week, I sew wool undershirt buttons and open button holes. Because these products are for export, they are very demanding. I can earn a few dollars a month to buy some soap and straw paper. My husband cannot afford to pay my allowance anymore. We have three children.” Talking about her situation, she couldn’t help but feel sad. I could see her head hanging low, almost crying. But she still sat on the edge of my bed. I knew that she wanted someone to talk to, and for me, after being isolated for so long, it was comforting to have her by my side for company.

“I was an accountant in a factory, and my husband was a technician in the same factory. It was quite a good job, but I was careless myself and lost it.” She said quietly.

“Was it a mistake in managing the incoming and outgoing silver money?” I asked her.

“No, I don’t do things like that. I just criticized our party secretary. Then someone went to report it, and they outed me. Not only did I not apologize to the branch secretary, but I defied them and fought them and criticized him some more… I was so unintelligent! The branch secretary got angry and put my name on the factory’s counter-revolutionary list. I was sentenced to twelve years.”

“Can you appeal to a higher court? It’s not too serious a mistake to criticize the party branch secretary; twelve years is too long a sentence.”

“What would be the use of that. All the higher court did was to push the case back to our branch secretary. The Public Security Bureau is always on the side of the branch secretary. You know, as the old saying goes: officials protect each other.”

“You’ve been here for a long time, and when your sentence is over, you can still have a family reunion.” I tried to comfort her.

“I’m almost done with my sentence. I hope that when I see them again, the children will still know me and my husband will not have another woman.”

“Do they come to visit on the scheduled visitation days?” I know that after sentenced prisoners are sent to Tiranqiao, family members are allowed to visit once a month. Because of this, many inmates who have been in custody for a long time would rather give a false account and be sentenced, so at least they can see their families.

“No. Immediately after I was sentenced, I myself asked them to draw a line in the sand with me. This was the only way that my husband could keep his own position and protect our children. As you know, they are very cruel in treating the families of counter-revolutionaries. My husband and I are very close, and we are in a free love union. When I asked him to divorce me instantly and not to have him come to visit me, he cried a lot. He said let’s just fake a divorce, when in fact he was waiting for me.”

I was really sad for her, but didn’t know what to say to comfort her. She was so immersed in her own sorrow that she didn’t make a sound for a long time. Then she changed the subject.

“It’s really your luck that you met that female physician to see the doctor. Her medical skills are very good. I heard that she graduated from a world-renowned medical school in the United States. This doctor is very kind and considerate of her patients. When I first came in, she was one of the inmates serving a sentence here. After she finished her sentence, she came back to work here. I heard that she asked to come here voluntarily. It’s hard to be a human being on the outside when you’ve been here. People are reluctant to associate with ex-prisoners, and unit leaders are afraid to assign them suitable jobs, not to mention the hope of promotion, they have become a tainted person, and always have to be discriminated against and blamed. Once they become a counter-revolutionary, they will always be a counter-revolutionary. I have seen this situation in the factory with my cold eyes, and now I am in it myself. Sometimes, I’m really afraid to leave here and go back to the outside world.”

I was shocked to hear that the female doctor was also a prisoner of Tilanqiao. I really did not expect that behind her kind appearance, there is such a tragic story. But now that I think about it, her eyes are not only gentle and understanding, but they do have a different kind of gaze. She seemed to have a unique understanding of life, which made her appear superbly wise and tolerant.

“She came back from the United States to serve the people in response to the call of the People’s Government. She had a very good position there, but she gave it up to return home. When I first met her, she still spoke as frankly as a foreigner. Like her, of course, there will be trouble.” She said.

In early 1950, the People’s Government, through agents and sympathizers among overseas Chinese, secretly mobilized Chinese intellectuals living in the United States to return to China to participate in the construction of the motherland. As a result, this call widely aroused the patriotic enthusiasm of overseas Chinese intellectuals everywhere, especially in the United States. A significant number of people from all walks of life responded to the call. They gave up their desirable careers and comfortable lives to return to China. In fact, they were not welcomed. Some leaders were suspicious of people with “overseas connections” and prejudiced against intellectuals. Such a policy put the returning intellectuals in a difficult position. Because of the tensions between Washington and Beijing, it was impossible for them to return to the United States. Therefore, they had to do their best to adapt to the Chinese situation. A few went to Hong Kong, but most remained in China and accepted the jobs assigned to them. Many were hit in the anti-rightist movement. Even those who survived the Anti-Rightist Movement were wiped out by the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Only some of the lucky ones were spared under the protection of Premier Zhou to the best of his ability. This was an example of the extreme leftists sacrificing individual people for politics.

We sat in silence, each of us thinking our own thoughts. There was another patient in the bed, who began to moan and cough. In the distance, there was the sound of the door opening again. The prisoner who was sitting on the edge of my bed got a little scared, and she turned to me and said good night, and slipped back into her own bed.

I lay with my eyes wide open, thinking of my daughter. Now, where was she? Will she be able to cope peacefully with the intricacies of this revolutionary situation? I prayed to God to guide her and protect her.