1958: My graduation and employment

In July 1958, I finished my four years of university study and waited for my assignment under the national plan. At that time, no graduate would think of going out to find a job by himself. Because everything was done according to the school’s plan to assign graduates, and employers were also following the plan to absorb new workers. Even if someone had the whimsy to find a job by himself, it would be very difficult to find one, and maybe the residents’ committee or police station would ask you why you were not assigned and had to find a job by yourself.

Of course, the graduation assignment should be politically oriented and pay attention to the political conditions, and the academic achievement is secondary. At this time, the political conditions were simplified to family origin, social connections and real-life performance, i.e. performance in the anti-right struggle, in order to make a left-center-right queue. Almost everyone in the class of more than forty students knew very well what faction they had been assigned to: left, center (which was subdivided into center-left, center-center and center-right) or right. However, with the exception of the right faction, this practice of dividing and ranking students into left, center, and right was never officially announced.

When the distribution plan from above did not come down, there was only waiting. The party branch of the department sent most of the leftists and all of the middle and rightists in our class to work at the construction site of the Yunnan Heavy Machinery Factory in Tshiba, Kunming, waiting for the assignment and supposedly promoting the ideological reform of the graduates. At that time, I didn’t even think about whether physical labor could reform my mind, and I spent my days pulling the frame truck, among the bars, and transporting soil together with two classmates. I was in good health, and after several trips to the countryside, I was not able to do the heavy physical work, but just sweat and mud every day.

In late August, we were notified to return to school. The head of the party branch in the class probably already knew about the distribution plan, and there were some rumors among the students: there were a few in Beijing, a few in the provinces, a few who stayed in school as teaching assistants, a few who stayed in Kunming. In fact, for most of the students, it was not clear where they would go in the future. A few of my junior classmates met me and said, “You will be our teacher, don’t be too big. I wondered where that came from. They explained that you had good grades and had published several papers and articles in major newspapers and journals, so the school must keep you around. Oh, that’s right, I smiled bitterly. At this point, I already knew that I had been designated as a centrist by the top. There were always ten or eight leftists, but I had no chance to stay on as an assistant professor.

After waiting for a number of days, the lower grades had already started, and we had not yet announced the results of the assignment. However, one thing that we usually do – the class graduation photo – was not mentioned by anyone. I was inquiring about it from students who were more or less in charge of the class when a student named Zhao rushed into the classroom and shouted, “I’m a political prisoner, how can I get into the ranks of thieves?” A leader of the party branch immediately sternly shouted: “Zhao × ×, what are you shouting? Do you want to aggravate the treatment?” Zhao × × suddenly calmed down, two eyes tearful to tell his grievances. He was one of the nine rightists pulled out of this class. After we returned to school, the department put the rightists in each grade together and sent someone to supervise them every day to do some school chores. Later, the school caught some thieves on campus and formed a team to supervise the work. The team of thieves was too small, so the school allocated some of the rightist students from our department, and Zhao×× was one of them. Zhao×× thought that he had never had the idea of stealing, much less had he ever stolen anything from anyone else, and now he was politically wrong and should not be treated as a thief, insulting him. Later, he learned that he was designated as the third category of rightists and assigned to labor at an agricultural station in Liangshan Prefecture, Sichuan Province, receiving 25 yuan a month for living expenses. The classmate who was more or less in charge of the class prompted me privately to stop asking about taking graduation pictures. You think: Now it is clear that the rightists are reactionaries, will the leftists be willing to take pictures with the rightists? Some of those who were classified as rightists, or those who were not classified but were disciplined within the party and the group, were embarrassed or upset, and were they willing to have their pictures taken with the leftists? Also, will the teachers be invited? If they are invited as in previous years, will teachers who have been classified as rightists be invited? There were a lot of questions, but forget it. As a result, when we graduated from college in 1958, the class did not take a single graduation picture together.

The first to leave school was not the majority of our class. At that time, I was a member of the Communist Youth League. One afternoon, a member of the party branch of the class told me: give you a task, Long x x tomorrow morning at 6 o’clock to focus on sending Dongfeng farm. You will be outside his dormitory at 10:30 tonight to guard the night, absolutely no problem. When the lights out bell rang at night, I went to carry out the task. Long x x was older than me, 25 or 26 years old at the time. Someone in his dorm handed out a stool and put it on the aisle outside the dormitory door: “Hey, it’s your turn!” I sat on the stool and stretched my head to look at Long × ×, he was already asleep. The students in the same dormitory with him were also asleep. I took a magazine prepared in advance and read it in the dim light of the aisle. After midnight, I felt very tired, but did not dare to close my eyes and doze off, for fear of being politically responsible in case something went wrong. The good thing is that nothing happened all night, less than 6:00, Long × × got up to organize his simple luggage. When the time came, a whistle sounded outside, and Long nodded to me and walked toward the dormitory door with his luggage. Someone came to pick him up at the door. Although Long and I have no deep friendship, after all, we have been studying together for four years, but now we can only nod to each other and “go our separate ways”. At breakfast time, I learned that the treatment of rightist students at that time was divided into four categories. This morning, the school concentrated on the repatriation of the second category of rightist students. I thought that Long×× must have come to the university to receive an education in order to become successful, just like everyone else, and I was afraid that I would not envision being sent by the university to the public security department’s farm for reeducation through labor after four years.

Next, one or two more rightist students disappeared. I heard that they were in the first category and had been sent to the Public Security Department by the school. 22 years later, when my classmates reunited, I learned that most of them had been sentenced to 15 years in prison, and after completing their sentences, they stayed in the labor force until after the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Party Central Committee, when they were rehabilitated and returned home.

Finally, it was my turn. Li, the secretary of the general branch of the department, faced with our group of two dozen students, not slow to talk about the ardent hope of the motherland for us, about the needs of the party should be our volunteer, asked us to consciously obey the assignment, do not stay in the city, but should go to their respective positions to take root and blossom. None of us proposed any modification to the assignment or even disobeyed the assignment, because everyone knew: we had to obey even if we didn’t, and it was useless to raise opinions. When I was given a letter of introduction to work, as well as the transfer of household relations, food relations, league organization relations and tickets, I understood that this was my fate. That night, the dorm rooms were very lively, and those of us who had to go to the countryside in Yunnan, as well as five students who had gone to Sichuan, two to Guizhou, and one to Henan for reassignment, together with other students who had not yet been announced, said a passionate farewell to each other, speculated carefully about future prospects, and encouraged each other. For this reason, someone even went to the expense of calling a kilogram of baguette wine.

The day before I left, to my surprise, one of the party committee and one of the league committee of this class had to talk to me. They were very simple, but very useful: According to your performance in the anti-rightist movement, especially the mistakes in your position, in order to facilitate your education and your future growth, the organization decided to give you a warning penalty. If you don’t fill out the form, you are not loyal to the organization and not honest. I understood at once, in June 1957 I said those few words, the leadership can not yet let go. That was one night, the party branch of this class held a sounding meeting, inviting non-party students to give their opinions to the party branch, to help the party rectify the wind. Soon after the meeting, the speeches became more and more enthusiastic, and the opinions became more and more acute. Some students criticized the pride of the party members in their class by name. Those who were named rose in defense. Both sides gradually added to the political jargon. Subsequent speakers were no less vocal, supporting each side. I did not speak. The next day the league branch met to discuss last night’s tweet and argument. Some students suggested that the league was an assistant to the party and that we leaguers should speak in support of party members. I said, “That depends on who has a point. A student refuted me: What stand do you take as a member of the league? I said, “The truth is the standpoint. Whichever side the truth is on, I will support it.

For these few words, I was criticized by the small meeting and the general assembly for saying something like “the truth is the stand”, blatantly opposing members of the league to stand for the party’s position, and completely losing my stand in front of the rightist attack. In response, I made many oral and written reviews. More than a year has passed since this incident, and I still want to be punished in the end? Alas, let it go. I graduated from college without any celebration, but with a disciplinary action on my back. I just wanted to leave school early, I didn’t even ask which level of the organization decided, and whether I had to go through the branch discussion in accordance with the league constitution, etc. I happened to know 11 years later that the school league committee had not given me any disciplinary action at all.

I left early. The ticket told me to take the train at 7:30 am on the third day at Kunming West Station. It was still rainy season in September in Yunnan. Long-distance buses, carrying passengers’ luggage, crushed gravel and mud in the drizzling rain as they headed west for three days. The map shows Gengma County in China’s Lincang Prefecture, Yunnan Province, near Myanmar, where I was employed.