Shanghai Life and Death(78)

Chapter 10: My Brother’s Account

After the endless “touring fight”, it was already summer. Before the onset of the summer heat in July, Shanghai would experience a period of rain, which was called the yellow plum season, named after the yellow plum that ripened in June. There was a dampness in the cells and the concrete floor was wet. After a rainstorm, the water in the gutter backed up and soaked into the room along the foot of the wall, creating a black puddle in one of the wall nooks, emitting a musty and putrid smell, making it impossible to breathe. My collection of winter farms were all moldy, along with the shoes that had only been on the damp concrete floor overnight, all covered with green mold spots.

But the warmer weather made me happy, because I no longer had to shiver from the cold, even if all my clothes were on and I huddled under the blanket, it was not enough to protect me from the cold. However, the humid climate made my joints swell and hurt. On those cold, miserable rainy days, my joints would be so stiff that I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. At the same time, the inflammation of my gums got worse. Not only did they bleed when I brushed my teeth, they bled all day long. Before I ate, I had to rub my gums with my hands to squeeze out the blood and then rinse my mouth before I could chew. Even so, when my inflamed gums encountered salty food, it would make me shiver with pain. Therefore, I had to use cold water to rinse the salt out of the food before eating it. Whenever the pain was too much to bear, the young doctor prescribed me a little anti-inflammatory tablet to reduce the inflammation. But he told me that there was no dentistry in the prison hospital.

In order to reverse my weakening health, I had to fight against the disease, and my strong desire for survival made me want nothing more than to live. But no matter how much I was suffering physically and mentally, my mind was more peaceful than ever because the constant arraignments gave me hope for clarification. Almost every few days, I was summoned for interrogation, where the interrogators, who were from the Labor Propaganda Team, asked me about many of my friends and relatives, and for each one of them, I was asked to write a detailed account of them and our relationship. I knew that they would check what I wrote with what my friends and relatives had written. For example, what they had said to me, what I had said to them, and so on. The interrogators and their assistants would check and compare these materials and if they found any discrepancies, they would be suspicious of me. Therefore, I had to write very correct, but not too detailed and specific, so as not to be different from what others had written. There were several interrogations where tit for tat. Some interrogators, not satisfied with what I had written or told them, threatened me with intimidation and coerced me to give incriminating evidence against some of my friends and relatives to expose their crimes. In this way, I figured out that those friends and relatives were in trouble.

In general, when answering or writing about my friends and relatives, I always use this as an opportunity to say something in their favor. Given the nature of their work and lifestyle in the past, I could generally guess what kind of trouble they were facing during the Cultural Revolution. I racked my brain to remember what they had done in the past and tried my best to make the rebels see them in a better light. In my written reports, I tried to use words and phrases that were more familiar and acceptable to the left.

One of the most striking things about our generation of educated Chinese is that we have a strong patriotic heart. Those of us who have been born with a wealth of knowledge and experience of the world and a constant awareness of how far our country has fallen behind compared to others are always on our minds. In fact a look at China’s recent history is in fact a record of a century of losing the edge of China’s excellent culture. When the Communist Party liberated China in 1949, everyone was convinced that the Communist Party could lead China forward, so many of us were willing to stay in China or return from overseas to contribute to the building of our country. In retrospect, however, that was a naive and rustic idea. Therefore, when I wrote my written reports, I always frankly confessed that my friends and relatives were patriotic and made a difference. But in fact, my efforts were like a blind man lighting a lamp for nothing. Because the rebels were so intent on picking on the faults of others that they were unwilling to look at their virtues. Besides, the extreme leftists simply confuse the conceptual distinction between the state and the government. State means “a people of common ancestry”, and politics means “an organized political group under the same polity”. If a person who, before the Communists seized power, had made a significant contribution to science or art in the cultural life of China, but whose efforts were not recognized as serving China, but were classified as serving the Nationalist rulers, such a person would be guilty of supporting the enemy’s rule over China. This view was so narrow and absurd that I often argued with the interrogators about it.

The series of interrogations took place during the rainy season. Often by the time I arrived at the interrogation room, I was drenched in rain and my shoes and socks were soaked with water. I didn’t have a raincoat, but fortunately it wasn’t too hot, so I could wear a few more clothes without getting my underwear wet. Such interrogations continued into the summer. After the rainy season passed, the next thing was sweltering heat and mosquitoes. Sometimes, the representatives of the units of my friends and relatives, who had asked me to write materials, came to join my interrogation. In this case, I knew which of my friends and relatives were also under the same scrutiny as me. I was very worried about them, and I often paid special attention to the attitude of those strangers. If they seemed reasonable, I was a little relieved; if they seemed ignorant and sinister, I was worried for my friends and relatives.

In the fall, a representative from the Shanghai People’s Art Theatre asked me about their director, Huang Zuolin. Huang and his wife, Dani, were old friends who I had met when my husband and I were students in London. Dani was a beautiful and gifted actress of great talent. By the time Shanghai was liberated, Huang was already a famous director. Everyone knew that the couple had been invited by the Shanghai underground to stay in Shanghai. Both were immediately hired by the Communist Party; when the Shanghai People’s Art Theater was established, Huang was appointed director and joined the Communist Party. They worked very well. Many first-rate plays were performed on the Shanghai theater stage, including Shakespeare’s comedies and other contemporary works written by European and American authors about satirizing the capitalist system. Thanks to their efforts, Chinese audiences experienced that foreign playwrights, too, could use criticism to depict the dark side of the society in which they lived. Chinese critics and Party leaders in the cultural sector considered Huang a first-rate director. Obviously, he was different from those who followed the ultra-leftists who said that “art serves politics” and “literature and art should glorify the workers, peasants and soldiers”.