“History is not likely to bear witness to the silent ones.
To speak, or not to speak?
And so it becomes a question.”
— Lin Xianzhi
Hechuan, which was once mine and our whole family’s, is unspeakable knotted and hidden pain.
I was born in Chengdu. Hechuan is my hometown, the birthplace of my father, and the place where my grandfather and elder brother were sent back after my father was designated as a rightist in 1957 – my grandfather was escorted back to his hometown as a “fugitive landlord”, and my elder brother was mentally ill and the psychiatric hospital was full, so he was sent back to live with my grandfather by good people. He was sent back to live with his grandfather.
Grandpa came to live with us in Chengdu in 1953, when my mother needed to recuperate from tuberculosis in isolation, and he took over the household chores of grocery shopping and cooking.
I think before my grandfather was forcibly escorted back to Hechuan in 1957, there was a criticism meeting in the street, because in those days, some naughty boys in my class used to play pranks in front of me: one boy with his head down and his hands behind his back, making a face of being tied behind his back; the other two boys followed behind him making a face of being escorted. As they walked, they shouted, “Down with Jiang, the landlord! When they shouted, they looked at me as if I was the one to be beaten.
When they were not performing, they took actual action. I don’t know how many times they followed me and kicked my heels with their toes, shouting, “Down with Chiang Kai-shek! Down with Chiang Kuan-Tou!
Not long after Grandpa was escorted back to Hechuan, Big Brother came back. Big brother was sentimental and liked to write poems and keep a diary. He graduated from an industrial junior college in the early 1950s and was assigned to work as a technician in a factory in Shenyang where numbers were used as a code name. Just as the factory in Chengdu with numbers as code names was a secret factory, so should that factory be a secret unit. The children of rightists should not work in such a factory, let alone in such an important job as a technician.
After my father’s rightist remarks appeared in the newspaper, my elder brother was removed from the factory. During the fierce anti-rightist movement, you can imagine the pressure and humiliation that the elder brother, who had just entered society, was subjected to.
His father was branded as a rightist, his grandfather was escorted back to his hometown as a “fugitive landlord”, and he was expelled from the factory. The self-respecting and sensitive elder brother returned to Chengdu in a trance.
The day he came back, I was home alone. He was tall and had no luggage with him. He picked me up and said, “Tell mom I’m staying at the Little Garden Hotel.
That night, my second brother went to the Little Garden Hotel to look for my big brother, but I didn’t see him.
A few days later, he came back.
When he came back, my third brother and my brothers were at home and I was there. He held my hand tightly and wanted to take me out. I was a little scared, but I had to go with him. He talked nonsense all the way, saying things like “Zhu De is my military mentor, Chairman Mao is my savior”. I was less than nine years old, but I knew he was crazy, how could he say such things?
In the middle of his rambling, I saw my second brother running ahead of us from a short distance away. I shouted, “Brother! Second brother! Second brother heard, immediately turned around and ran over, panting and said: Little sister, go back! The teacher from your school is coming home to see you! I know it’s an excuse, but my big brother clutched my hand so tightly that I couldn’t leave. When my second brother saw this, he came to break my brother’s hand. I heard my brother shouting: “Murder! Killing people ……
From that day on, my elder brother was put into the room where my grandfather had lived. Outside that room was the back room where the next-door neighbor had placed all the household items for cooking. Once he came out of the room and saw the kitchen knife on the family’s counter, he picked it up and waved it around, wounding himself. A kind-hearted neighbor helped my mother take my brother to a mental hospital and asked to be hospitalized, but the inpatient unit was full and he could not be admitted.
Forced to do nothing, my mother asked someone to send my big brother back home to Hechuan.
I never heard what happened to my grandfather and my big brother, and no one in my family ever mentioned anything about it.
As I wrote in my “Father’s Return” reminiscence, the day my father returned from the reformatory, the door of the house was taken down and two benches were put underneath to make a bed for him to live in for ten days. He breathed his last on this bed.
After my father’s death, the door was not returned to its place. There was no door to the house, and for a long, long time, anyone could enter our house at any time. There were no items for people to steal from our house, so thieves never patronized it.
But one day, an unexpected visitor came.
When I came home from school that day, I found a written note on my desk. He was visiting Chengdu on business from Hechuan, and he saw that his family was as poor as a house, so he was very sad. I hope my mother will take care of herself. Who is this unexpected guest? My mother never mentioned it, and we never asked.
When this unexpected visitor came, the three-year famine was nearing its end. In three years, four people had died in our courtyard, where nine families lived. If you count my father, that’s five.
More people died of starvation in the countryside than in the city. When I went to the countryside in 1969 to settle down, the local farmers told me that two-thirds of the people in their production team had died. The farmers said that too many people had died and the living were too hungry to bury them. At that time, I thought that my grandfather and elder brother in the Hechuan countryside must have died long ago.
But what happened to them in Hechuan? And how did they finally die?
During those difficult years, as a child of the Black Five, I identified with the grand narrative of the revolution. With the body of original sin, I tried to reform myself. The first time I was recruited to return to the city after going to the countryside, I was the only one recommended among the seven youths in the production team. The cadre who came to recruit me talked to me. He said: Considering your bad background, you need to reform yourself more, we will not recruit you this time. I was convinced. I fought for a transformation, and I tried my best not to miss my deceased relatives. I avoided my family history and avoided Hechuan.
In our family, Hechuan was mentioned again after the Cultural Revolution. At that time, my sixth brother, who was studying medicine, saw the book “Sichuan Medical Forest” in the Xinhua bookstore, in which there was an account of Jiang Hongmo, a famous doctor in eastern Sichuan. Mother said that Jiang Hongmo was our great-grandfather. She said, when the weather is good, great-grandfather will be sunshine medical books, medical books, to fill half of the courtyard. Mother also mentioned that our great-grandfather Jiang Bifang, whom we never knew, was a Hanlin of the Qing Dynasty. I have a classmate who teaches in the history department of Chuan University, and that classmate specially borrowed the Hechuan County Records from the library of Chuan University, so that Rudi could transcribe the records of his great-grandfather and great-grandfather from the county records.
Hechuan, a knot that had lurked in my heart for a long time, was touched again.
However, I was too busy, after graduating from college, I stayed in school to teach, got married, had children, and translated, and earned extra water to take care of my family in the evening classes. More importantly, the habit of avoiding touching my family’s past in order to reduce pain has become part of my personality since I was a child.
Once again, I avoided Hechuan; I didn’t even read the county records copied by my sixth brother, even though great-grandfather and high ancestor seemed like they should be the glory of the family lineage.
What one tries to avoid is actually a knot in the heart that one cannot get around.
I have been unable to forget my grandfather and elder brother after going to the country for years and years, and the stars have shifted. Gradually, I began to face up to family history and my own heart. I felt I had to go to Hechuan to find out what had happened to my grandfather and elder brother.
In 2002, I took the opportunity of my academic leave to go back home and visit Hechuan.
The original Hechuan County had been transformed into Hechuan City in 1992.
I knew that the old Jiang family house was in Baisha Township, Hechuan, but I did not know the details of the address. The wife of one of my relatives was an old classmate of one of the leaders of Hechuan City at that time, and both of them had settled in the countryside of Chongqing. She called her old classmate and asked him to take care of me. When I arrived in Hechuan, I went to see him at the city hall. He immediately called and invited a retired high school principal. The retired high school principal knew a lot about Gaozu Jiang Hanlin and knew where Hanlin’s tomb was located. He also knew the exact address of the famous doctor’s great-grandfather and my old house, the “Jiang Family Compound”.
According to the Hechuan County Records, Gaozu’s “family was poor and he lost his father when he was young and lived with his mother. He was “diligent and hard-working, well-read in poetry and books”. The “Jiang family compound” was built after Gaozu won the scholarship and the scholars and gentry “competed to give thousands of gold to each other”. Gaozu himself did not live in the Jiang family compound for long, because he soon ran to the capital, serving as the Hanlin Academy editor and compiler of the National History Museum. In the summer of the 10th year of Guangxu, he received news of his mother’s death and immediately went home to mourn. It took him two months to arrive after a long journey. It is said that when he returned to his hometown to mourn, he built a hut for himself to live next to his mother’s grave. During his mourning period, he “mourned more than constantly and died before long.
His great-grandfather, Jiang Hongmo, studied medical books in the Jiang family compound. History states that he “first learned from the old doctor Liu Daozhi, and then he strived to study dozens of hundreds of medical books in the family collection, after ten years of hard study and went out for consultation …… Although poor and small households, but still fine thinking and the …… should be readily effective… … From this medical fame, near and far to extend the consultation of people, the door without a day, the day without a time …… very poor, then week to medicine money.” In order to let more people get medical treatment, he went to the city “to set up a hall to teach students, and compiled a song on pharmacology, medical scriptures, prescriptions, and treatments, so that practitioners of medicine could learn to recite them”. His writings include “The Easy Reading of the Materia Medica”, “The Essentials of Medicine”, and “The Case of Medicine and Treatment”.
Although my grandfather grew up in the fragrance of books in the Jiang family compound, because my great-grandfather was too busy, the area around Chuandong was “always in the shadow of his public opinion”, and “every time I heard that he had returned, the public opinion was full of horses, and they were scrambling to get there”. He had no time for his grandfather’s training. After the death of my great-grandfather in 1918, my family was in decline and became poorer and poorer. Grandpa went to Chongqing as an apprentice for some years and saved up some money to buy some land in his hometown. Did he farm the land himself or did he hire workers or rent it to others? It is not known. According to scholarly research, during the land reform period, many subsistence farmers in the eastern part of Sichuan were beaten as landlords. In Wuxi County, some people were classified as landlords because they had two more jars of sauce for cooking rice than others.
A friend of the city’s leader found a jeep and sent the old principal and me to the former home of Jiang’s family. The jeep stopped when we reached a place about twenty minutes’ walk from the village, because there was no road in front of us to drive on. The principal and I got out and walked, while the driver waited in place.
During the walk, the old principal said: “During the Cultural Revolution, Hanlin’s tomb was excavated and damaged by the Red Guards. Your grandfather and elder brother, may also have long left the world, but the Jiang family compound should still be there.
After entering the village, we went directly to the “Jiang family compound”. This “Jiang family compound” brick walls and tile roof, has fallen into disrepair. Although it was considered a big house in the village, it was much smaller than the one my family lived in with many others in Chengdu in the 1950s, which was several doors deep. The old principal said that the people living in it now were a few poor peasant families. The old principal also found my distant cousin for me, who was tall and rosy-cheeked. Then, the old principal and cousin took me to the home of another distant relative surnamed Jiang.
This family had a spacious courtyard and a neat and tidy house. It had been more than twenty years since the reform and opening up, and they seemed to be living a good life. However, they were still wary of talking about the subjects involved in the revolutionary movement forty years ago. After the old principal told them my intention, my distant cousin’s wife took me to the kitchen, while the rest of us stayed in the hall to chat.
According to my cousin’s wife’s account, it was hard to describe what happened to my grandfather and elder brother after they returned to their hometown.
During the land reform period, the Jiang family compound was occupied by the poor peasants. After being escorted back to the village, grandpa, who was in his seventies, had to live in a makeshift thatched hut. With nothing, he was starving and deprived, and his life was kept alive by the villagers quietly sending some food and firewood. Within two months, his older brother was sent back again, and Grandpa had to take care of his mentally disturbed older brother. I don’t know how they survived, and my cousin’s wife is not very specific here. I did not dare to ask, because it was too cruel!
But the crueler part was yet to come.
After the Anti-Rightist Movement, it was the year 1958 when the three red flags of “General Line, Great Leap Forward and People’s Commune” were flying high. As in other parts of the country, a people’s commune was set up in the Hechuan countryside, and a commune canteen was set up. The commune strictly forbade villagers to cook on their own, and all men, women and children had to go to the communal canteen to eat big pot meals. However, the canteen refused to provide food for Big Brother because he was sick and his labor performance was too poor.
Big brother still had moments of comparative lucidity. Cousin’s wife said he wrote a letter and sent it to the commune leaders, asking for meals. Instructions came down from above: to let the madman eat. So he was able to eat.
This did not last long, grandfather was forced to leave home to repair the reservoir. His old age and physical weakness, combined with the intense labor, made him fall ill at the construction site soon. In order not to let him die in the shed and bring bad luck to everyone, he was carried back to the village. At that time, the commune canteen, which was once a national flowering, had been closed down due to the lack of food and rice, and the famine, known as the “three years of natural disasters”, had begun.
The crazy elder brother, the dying grandfather, the thatched house in the storm ……. I don’t know what they eat or drink. The cousin’s wife at this time tears welled up, choking hard to say. I dare not ask, afraid to ask more human cruelty.
A few days after grandfather was carried home, a villager went to visit and found that grandfather was dead. The revolutionary cadres of the production team remembered the teaching of “never forget the class struggle” and carried out the class line on the issue of who to send to bury the dead: the person who carried Grandpa’s body to bury it had to be a member of the middle peasantry or below, and the poor peasants were not allowed to get their hands on it.
Grandpa’s body was wrapped in a ragged straw mat and buried hastily. In later days, more and more villagers were buried in this way, and they were the victims of the three-year famine.
After grandpa’s death, my elder brother often went to the cemetery. Maybe at first it was just because others told him that grandpa was buried there. Later, it was to grind food. In those days when “white bones were exposed in the wild, and no chickens were roaring for a thousand miles”, the wild dogs that survived dug through the soil and gnawed on the corpses, leaving the bones of the dead exposed. When he was hungry, he picked those bones to chew.
In “A Chronicle of Jibian Gou,” the rightists, who were extremely hungry, ate tree bark, grass roots, earthworms, and every kind of crawling insect they could find, including scorpions. They either had severe diarrhea or were so bloated that they could not relieve themselves of their bowels. When they had to relieve their bowels, they had to use their hands or homemade small tools to empty their anus. According to my cousin’s wife’s account, my elder brother also had the same problem at that time. However, he was not a rightist and was not in a reeducation-through-labor farm, so there was no one around to help him.
One evening, when he was at the edge of a winter water field, the secretary of the party branch of the brigade passed by and kicked him into the water field. Then he went away. The water in the winter field was knee-deep, but the extremely weak brother was unable to struggle out and died in the winter field.
I heard that the overseas descendants of the Jiang family had returned, or returned in the city jeep, and that afternoon, the township cadres made sure to invite me to dinner. I could not refuse, because the old principal and the driver were happy to go to the dinner.
A table full of people around a table full of wine and food. The young town cadres opened the table with a speech, hoping that I would pull overseas investment for the local economy. I told him that I did not know business people, much less pull investment. He may have been a little disappointed, but that didn’t stop the crowd from enjoying the banquet paid for by public funds.
Everyone was eating and laughing, but my heart was reeling.
I was reminded of the famous and straightforward phrase: “Hundreds of generations have been practicing Qin politics”. The historian Huang Renyu called Qin Shi Huang “one of the world’s most fearsome despots” who “consolidated his rule by burning poetry and books and burying his opponents alive”.
I thought of the Red August in Beijing in 1966 and the Cultural Revolution in Guangxi.
I thought while looking at the table full of dishes in front of me and suddenly had a feeling of vomiting. I tried my best to control myself and not to make any noise so as not to spoil everyone’s fun. As my thoughts tumbled, I couldn’t help but think that the deaths of my grandfather and elder brother were not the worst. I, myself, should feel grateful – grateful to be alive.
According to the scholar Lin Xianzhi, the children of the Black Five suffer from a destructive process inside. This is true for my own feelings. My close friends and relatives are still reluctant to talk about the past in order to avoid the heart-breaking pain.
I was lucky. After I left the country, I read a lot of books on psychology and philosophy and domestic and foreign politics, and gradually I was able to look at my family history and my own heart. However, I still find it difficult to write such an article with tears on my shirt.
On the one hand, I need psychological release, but more importantly, I feel that I have the responsibility and obligation to do my part for the return of universal humanity and humanitarianism.