Shanghai Life and Death(56)

The next morning, as soon as my feet touched the ground, I still felt weak, and when I walked around, I just felt out of breath. After that, I kept walking a few steps every day, and later I was able to walk around the room. My health was gradually restored with nutrition and medication.

At that time, the accountant and I were the only ones in the ward. Another patient was very sick and could not get up. Once I went to her bedside, but she did not open her eyelids, as if she did not notice. On her pillow, there was half a jar of phlegm and blood. Her face looked like a crumpled vellum. She lay there motionless, except for a cough. At lunchtime, the young woman who had come to reform through labor fed her with a spoon.

I never inquired about her problems to the young woman who had come to reform, and she did not dare to risk talking to me. But we showed our friendship by smiling at each other. Although she brought me nutritious dishes each time, I found that she herself ate the usual prisoner’s rice or yams boiled in plain water. She was dressed in rags and looked ill-clothed. Seeing her lips frozen purple and her shoulders shrugging, I wanted to give her one of my sweaters. I took the sweater off that day and gave it to her when she came in. Because the PLA was watching, I wasn’t prepared to say anything to her. However, she was startled and looked nervously at the sad accounting prisoner at the end of the ward and returned the sweater to me in a panic.

A year later, when I came back in due to a serious illness, she was no longer there. Hopefully, she was in a general hospital in Shanghai, walking nimbly through the beds with a syringe in her hand, serving the patients.

After another week, my body temperature was normal. The doctor told me that I could go back to the guardhouse. Her soft eyes were full of friendliness as she spoke. Perhaps there was something about my unconsciousness that gave her a sense of familiarity. This woman has a sublime character. I don’t believe she returned to practicing medicine in a prison hospital simply because she was an ex-convict and couldn’t live with the outside world; I believe she returned because the inmates here needed her and she found a place where she could contribute her life’s energy. Although her position is not honorable and does not deserve praise in the eyes of the world, she seems to hold an extraordinary spiritual attachment. Apparently, the suffering she endured made her kinder and more perfect.

A few days later, when one of the guards brought another prisoner into the hospital, he also escorted me back to the First Detention Center.

Chapter 8: The Struggle for the Party Line

Since the winter of 1967, when I contracted pneumonia, my health began to deteriorate. I was unable to regain my full strength because of the prolonged lack of nutrition, sunlight and fresh air; moreover, I was unable to concentrate for long periods of time on research and thought, and I was tired of trying to make correct logical deductions about things. I began to understand why abject poverty causes dullness of vision and slowness of action. I was well aware of the series of symptoms caused by mental and physical exhaustion, which brought my health to the brink of collapse. But the decline in my ability to think was more frightening than the loss of hair and bleeding gums, and the dramatic loss of weight. Also, the psychological perversion caused by complete isolation from the world was setting off alarm bells for me. I was desperate and suffering from hunger, but the poor food was unpalatable.

The situation outside the prison walls was still chaotic. Although the army had joined the Cultural Revolution, the atrocities and sectarian struggles of the Red Guards and the rebels continued uninterruptedly until 1968, as if the central government in Beijing was powerless to control them after the Red Guards and rebels had been approved to take power. There was no relief from the chaotic situation, even if, as in the case of the guards, it could not be brought into the regular way. No one was responsible for dealing with my problems seriously. I could only stay in my cell and wait. I was really worried that I would not survive until the problem was solved. It had become a pressing problem.

One day, the young woman who was working here brought me a basin of cold water, but I was unable to carry the basin filled with water from the small window to the place where the basin was placed every day two feet away. My hands were shivering like sieve chaff, my pulse was racing, and my legs were wobbly, so I just put the basin on the ground and sat down on the bed.

I sat on the edge of the bed panting, thinking that if I was determined to survive, I had to do physical and mental exercise. Once I had made up my mind, I stood up, but it was as dark as if I were blind. I had to sit down again. But from that day on, I made up my own set of exercises, which can make me from the head to the tip of the toes, all the activities. I practiced it twice a day. At first, completing the exercises made me very tired, I could only do breaks, and I had to be careful not to be discovered by the guards. Because in the cell, all activities were forbidden except for the prescribed daily activities after meals. Even so, I continued to exercise every day. After a few months, I actually recovered my strength and felt better about myself.

As for the exercise of my brain power, I took to reciting some of Mao’s literature. I thought this move would help me understand his thinking. If I were to be arraigned again in the future, I would be able to use them skillfully to argue. My favorite part of reading about him was his essay on guerrilla warfare, where he repeatedly stressed the importance of taking the initiative and pre-emptive strikes, no matter where or when you are. Only in this way could guerrillas, poorly equipped and backward, crush the advanced regular army in order to achieve victory. Although his misguided economic policies had brought China’s economy to the brink of collapse on several occasions. But his doctrine of guerrilla warfare compels me to admit that Mao was a brilliant strategist. His arguments about guerrilla warfare were, I think, based on the combat experience of the Communist army and done with a quick and sober mind. But then again, spending a few hours a day reading Mao’s works was more or less uncomfortable for a persecuted person like me.

So I switched to reciting the Tang poems I had memorized as a student. I was amazed that I was able to dig out from the depths of my memory poems that had been abandoned for decades. It was very exciting to find the fragments of verses that I thought I had forgotten and put them back together into a complete poem. The immortal works of the great poets of the Tang Dynasty not only strengthened my memory, but also allowed me to soar in fantasy, out of the harsh reality of my prison cell, toward another beautiful world of freedom.

The efforts I made to be spiritually sound were a very successful measure. But sometimes, hunger and sorrow consumed my body and mind, shaking my belief in survival. At such times, I had to rely on the conflict with the guards to stimulate my spirit of resistance.