Shanghai Life and Death (97)

I didn’t let her indifference deter me, and for several days in a row, I asked each guard on duty for additional winter clothes and bedding. One of the guards said impatiently, “All right, all right, you need winter clothes, we all know, your request we are already considering.”

A week went by, another week went by, and the climate was getting colder. Again, I decided to press the issue a little more.

“Report!” I called out.

“What do you want!” A guard asked, standing outside the door.

“May I see the interrogator?”

“What is it?”

“I’m asking for some additional winter coats.”

“Don’t you already have winter clothes?” The guard pushed open the small window. I saw that she was the older guard who had urged me to eat when I was handcuffed. I hadn’t seen her since that night.

“My winter coat is torn, so please come in and look at it. If I don’t have warm clothes, I’ll get sick in the winter.” I said.

She opened the door and came in, checked my clothes and bedding, and then said, “I will report this to my superiors. Now, would you like to borrow some prison clothes for a while?”

I shuddered at the thought of wearing prison clothes, not only because they might have bedbugs, but because I felt that I would lose the last vestiges of my dignity and independence once I put on such clothes.

“No, thanks. I don’t want to borrow the prison clothes. I would like to be allowed to use my personal money, which is held by the government, to buy some new winter clothes.”

She seemed to be considering my request. I took advantage of the situation and continued, “My money was taken away when the Red Guards raided my house, and one of the teachers said that the government would hold the money for me, if it was not exploited. I don’t have any dividend stocks and I don’t have any land in the countryside. When I explained my situation to the teacher, he told me that the money would not be confiscated.”

“I will report it to my superiors.” She promised me.

A few days later, I was summoned to the interrogation room again. The older worker-interrogator had disappeared, and in the interrogation room sat the woman soldier who always led the persecution against me. She was flanked by two female guards: one of them was the one I thought was more moderate. I was surprised and disappointed by the female soldier. Did the new situation in Beijing not bring any changes to the First Detention Center? If this woman was allowed to conduct the interrogation, all hopes would be dashed and come to naught.

After bowing to Mao’s portrait and reading a quotation from the book of quotations with the preface torn out, I sat down on the prisoner’s seat and waited for her to accost me, and to my surprise, she said in a normal, almost conciliatory tone: “What do you want about your winter coat? Don’t you have your winter coat ready yet?”

“They are all worn out.” I said, and to confirm my words, I pulled open my blue cloth blouse and uncovered to them the cotton jacket with holes and hanging balls of wadded cotton inside, and held up my hands to show them the frayed cuffs.

“All right, all right, put your shirt back on.” She said.

“My property is in the custody of the state, and I ask permission to withdraw some of my own money to buy some necessary clothes.” I said, emphasizing “my own money”.

“Which department of the state is holding your money?” She asked, “Do you have the receipts?”

“The Red Guards took my money away when they raided my house, and they didn’t give me a receipt.”

“When you refer to the Red Guards conducting a revolutionary movement, you can’t use the word ‘copying homes.’ They were ‘breaking the Four Olds’ in socialist China and reforming the exploiting class in accordance with the teachings of the Great Leader.” She said.

“I am not an exploiting class member; according to Marx’s theory, only those who live off the dividends from factory stock or the proceeds from renting land to peasants are ‘exploiting class members.’ I get my money from my own legal wages and from property inherited from my family, which are guaranteed by the Constitution.” I said passionately. If I had said that a year ago, she would have been furious, but now she just disagreed with me.

“Did the teacher of the Red Guards who came to your house to carry out the revolutionary action tell you which department of the state handles your money?”

“No. They only said that the money would wait for Chairman Mao to decide.”

“That’s right. All private property taken by the Red Guards is frozen and not allowed to be used until Chairman Mao makes a decision.” She said.

“I still have a foreign exchange deposit account with the Bank of China.” I said.

“The foreign exchange deposit is also frozen.”

“That’s fine. Can I borrow an English typewriter so I can write a letter to the bank in Hong Kong where I have it on deposit and ask them to wire me some money back?”

“That won’t work, you can’t contact any foreigners.” She said, “How do we know what you wrote in the letter?”

“The letter will naturally give you the purpose before it is sent.”

“You may use a code, and that won’t work. We can only report your request to our superiors, and whether to consider giving you a little warm winter coat when the weather is really cold. Now you go back and continue your efforts to study Chairman Mao’s writings.”

I went back to my cell. The whole time, the woman soldier spoke in a common tone, and arguably with sympathy. This rapid change was puzzling, and I thought that she was really a typical Party member who “followed the Party’s policy”. These types of party members never analyze any policy, but simply follow it and implement it immediately. They are robots without brains, without the ability to think independently. In party organizations at all levels, as long as there is a secretary in office for a day, then these people will serve him unconditionally and wholeheartedly. And once the secretary out of trouble, then, these people will be the first to criticize and expose him. Because they are taking advantage of the change in party policy to seek fame and position, the consequences of which led to a fundamental change in the fundamental evaluation of Chinese society.

A week later, a male guard placed a large package on the floor of my cell, and after I signed for it, he locked the door and left. I put the big package on the bed and unpacked it, and was astonished to find that it contained a cotton jacket, a coat with wool lining, two woolen coats, and a pair of woolen pants. These were the things my daughter had been allowed to keep after the Red Guards raided her home in 1966. There was also her winter bedding. There were also some towels and a cup she used to drink tea from, which were wrapped in her clothes. One of them was a rose-colored Fortress (British) washcloth that I had bought from Hong Kong. She was using it when I was taken to the First Detention Center. It seemed that they kept the same face as they had in 1966. I looked at the dark navy tweed jacket with red-brown silk trim, which had been new in 1966 and was still brand new. I picked up the white enamel tea pot with trembling hands, and found that there were still yellowish stains inside. It had not been washed, and the tea inside was air-dried.

My heart was beating faster and faster as I went through the clothes, all of which was an omen of bad luck, so I couldn’t help but imagine what terrible things would happen to my daughter after my arrest. Perhaps she is no longer alive. So the clothes don’t seem to have been worn at all, and the towel still looks new, which means it hasn’t been used either. Maybe she died suddenly and unprepared, so I couldn’t even wash my cup after drinking my tea, I couldn’t stand up and sat down on the bed.