Do you know “knocking sand pot”?

More than fifty years ago, my family lived in the city of Wan County on the Yangjia Street entrance. Back then, the stores on the whole street were extremely simple. As far as I can remember, there was a “traffic hotel” at the corner of the main street, which was a four-story building. My family is not far away, my father opened a small Western medical clinic, named “Boai”. Across the street from my house were a tailor’s store, a charcoal store, and two coffin stores. When I climbed up from the pier, the stallholders used wood-fired stoves to prop up a large pot in which they cooked chicken, duck, fish, and meat, which were actually all picked from the driving rain in the mess rooms of the ships that passed by. Hot soup pot into some vermicelli, peas, yams and so on. The people who buy it to eat are mostly hard workers on the docks, or farmers who go to the city to sell vegetables. Holding a large bowl squatting on the side of the street, the bowl of gas, head sweat. This scene lasted for a long time. This is how it was in the poor times, the poor docks, and the poor people.

Wanxian was “liberated” after the five-star red flag was raised in Tiananmen Square, and in the fall of 1950, when I was less than six years old, my family sent me to school for enlightenment. The school was not far from Yangjiajiekou and was called Shifosi Primary School. The school was small and extremely simple, an abandoned temple converted into a school, which was later renamed Shengli Road Primary School, and was only cancelled when the Three Gorges immigrants were relocated.

There was a big age gap between my classmates, and the older ones were simply young boys. In the same class, there were two brothers, Wen Chuanxian and Wen Chuanji, who were the sons of the owner of the traffic hotel. The brothers’ maiden names are “Big Brother” and “Little Brother” respectively. My family and I were very close to each other, and we always walked together after school. The school only offered Mandarin, arithmetic and writing classes. The most fun was the writing class. At that time, all writing was done with brushes, and when class started, the ink was first sharpened. The desks were small, the floor was uneven, and the people were short, so they wobbled, and before the ink was sharpened, their faces, hands, desks, and clothes were already speckled. I do not know which student called, the ink war and open, a time, the frontal combat, the fish in the pond, gloating, a lot of fever. The sound of cursing and laughter was incessant. Our teacher is a very strict male teacher, only to see him holding the shiny reflective gimlet, bouncing around pressure. The teacher believed that “good people come out of yellow thorns”, and at such times, the two brothers, the eldest and the youngest, were not spared, as was I.

The most important thing that has changed in our eyes is that the money of the past can no longer be used. Those printed stacks, stacks, bundles of brand new money became waste paper. We do not know the sorrows of adults, waste paper money became the best toys: folding paper pistols, paper belts, armed belts, boat-shaped cap, and then fully armed, the gang to fight. That kind of vivid, that kind of bravado, all do not see the adults face bitter smile, the game often also have the big brother, little brother two figures.

My favorite place to go with my buddies was the “South Gate”. That is an old Wanzhou place name, a large sand dam by the Yangtze River, where there are often “knocking sand cans”. The “knocking sand pot” refers to shooting at the head of a prisoner. In those days, what the head of the Green and Red Gang, the consistent Taoist altar master, the stick of the second, counter-revolutionary, etc., the most convenient is to kill. At that time, there were “sand cans” twice a day, and the eldest and youngest brothers went with us to see the fun: the prisoner was tied up, with a “token” on his back, with the charge, name, and a bright red cross on it. Usually two soldiers stand a prisoner, pushed to the riverside sand dam, facing the south bank kneeling, a couple of paces behind a soldier with a long gun, with a gun to the back of the prisoner’s head. In the crowd watching, I and my buddies always want to get closer, often bowing into the adults, crouching in the first row. When the gun went off, the dead fell face down to the ground, so there was the expression “gnawing sand”. Sometimes “knock” one or two, sometimes “knock” three or more. I saw the most once, at once “knock” 17, listen to the adults said all “consistent way”, there are female it. Still a soldier “knock” one. When I grew up, I read Lu Xun’s novel, which depicted human blood buns, but the sight I saw back then was even more horrifying. I witnessed a scene that I still can’t forget: after the gunshots, an adult with disheveled hair and ragged clothes ran to the dead man, grabbed the brain marrow with his hands and put it in his mouth, and flung his hands straight, and the adult next to him said that it was hot. The adults also said that the human brain marrow can cure madness. Once, I and my friends from the south gate to see the “knocking sand pot” back, see the big brother and little brother two brothers with a blank expression, I asked offhandedly: “You did not go to see the knocking sand pot today?” The two brothers answered us indifferently: “Today knocking is my house old man (father)”. Once the children heard this, we all did not answer, quietly dispersed.

From then on, although we continue to play with the big brother and little brother, but I found that their words are less, they often hide in the corner of the home to close themselves. Perhaps they feel that it doesn’t matter if others don’t trust them, but the distrust from their buddies makes them sad. Yes, we don’t call on them anymore when we go to see the “sand pot”. Because we know that their father was “knocked in the sand”. My hurt was unintentional, but unintentional hurt is sometimes more powerful than intentional, especially under the circumstances.

I am 62 years old, and I have felt guilty about this for more than half a century over the years. Although it seems that I was not at fault, and the two brothers never blamed me, just like in “The Blessing” when Liu’s mother persuaded Sister Xianglin to donate the threshold, and Sister Xianglin did not blame Liu’s mother. But this incident is like a stone weighing on my heart. A few years ago I met my elder brother, he worked in the state cotton mill restructuring, the factory workers went to the government building “trouble”, has been “tail between the legs” of the elder brother afraid not to go, heard him say that the younger brother passed away.

When I grew up, I often thought that the act of depriving people of their right to life was lightly and jokingly called “knocking on the sand pot” and “gnawing on the sand”, which was an image of language, and our lack of respect for human life and human rights was also evident.

Southern Weekend 2008-01-24