After I came to New Zealand in February 1988, I often thought about my father’s return and his death ten days after he came home. Before that time, I also thought about it often. But it was a time when revolutionary words were flooding my eardrums and vision, and subconsciously, remembering my father was a treason, so I did not dare or have the proper words to express it.
Two years after I came out, the English I had learned in China could finally express what I was thinking more smoothly, and the nightmare that had been lurking in my heart for years finally found a discourse carrier without fear of ideology. I sat down at my computer and wrote “The Return of Father”. When I printed it out, my friend, a foreign lady, read it to me. I thought I had dried up my tears while I was writing it, but her emotional reading made me cry so hard that I couldn’t help but cry. After crying bitterly, it was as if a burden of many years had been lifted from my heart.
Now that I am in my 70s, I had another bowel cancer operation two years ago, and my memory is fading. My friends have been telling me for years to write my story, and recently I have been urged to do so by friends in China and abroad. If I don’t write it, I’m afraid I’ll run out of time. The English manuscript I wrote thirty years ago is long gone. My friends in China have been urging me to write it, so I have the following article.
My Father’s Return
It was December 21, 1961. I was reading a book when I suddenly heard someone shouting my mother’s name from the street downstairs, and the voice seemed familiar. I went to the window, and ah, it was my father! I rushed downstairs. He was carrying a small wooden box and said: Tell your mother that my luggage is at the Public Security Bureau on Wenwu Road. At that time, my mother was at work, my brothers were at school, and I was home alone because I was off school. At that time, there were already two students in my elementary school class, died of severe malnutrition due to starvation, I also began to edema coughing blood. My classmates said I was the third to die, so my mother made me take a break from school.
I took my father and climbed up to the attic where we lived. The wooden staircase in the attic was steep and narrow, and the inlet after going up was so low that adults had to bend down or their heads would touch a big bruise. I haven’t seen my father in over four years. My father, who was only in his fifties, was much older than when he went to Ebian Shaping Farm for reeducation through labor more than four years ago. His back was hunched and he had some difficulty climbing the stairs.
This home is unfamiliar to my father. Before he was sent to reeducation through labor as a rightist, the house we lived in was much better than this one. It was a deep house with a gate, a second gate, a front yard, a back yard, and a side yard, with grapes, green bamboo, and a walnut tree that bore fruit every year. There were many families living in the courtyard. Later, a factory for making leather shoes moved in, and a sign with black letters on a white background was put up at the street gate: Chengdu Leather Shoes Five Society. A canopy was set up over the largest yard in front of my house, and workers worked under it all day long.
One day when I came home from school, I saw someone in the group of workers shaking the Chengdu Daily News of that day, saying: Mr. Jiang has been killed! I glanced at it and saw my father’s name in the paper – it was then that I learned that my father had become a rightist.
My father was first isolated for a few months, and then sent to Ebian Shaping Farm for reeducation through labor. During the isolation period, three policemen came to our house and searched it, even climbing up to look at the ceiling. After they left, my mother said to me, “Fortunately, I hid your elder brother’s diary in my cotton jacket, otherwise they would have taken it away. I have seen the diary of my elder brother, the blue cover, there is a long poem in vernacular of several pages, is thinking of my father.
Brother was working as a technician in a confidential factory in Shenyang, but after his father’s rightist remarks appeared in the newspaper, he was removed from the unit. When he returned, his father had been isolated. He did not see his father, but he himself suffered from mental illness. At that time, there were no beds in the psychiatric hospital, so he was sent back home to Hechuan. He was taken care of by his grandfather, who had also been forcibly escorted back to his hometown as a “fugitive landlord” because of his father’s problems.
Before my father was made a rightist, he worked in the accounting department of the Chengdu City Bureau of Industry. He took me to see a play in the city hall auditorium, and I heard people call him “Director Jiang” and “Teacher Jiang”. His salary was the only financial source for the family.
After my father left, the family’s income was cut off. My mother, who had been recuperating at home, joined a factory as an accountant. The factory was far from home, so my mother moved here with us because it was close to the factory where she worked. The stairs were narrow and the attic was low, so some of the original furniture could not be moved up. They were placed on the sidewalk below, and later disappeared. Before the liberation, my mother attended Guanghua University (now the predecessor of Southwest University of Finance and Economics), but suffered from lung disease and stopped studying before she graduated. She started as an accountant in a factory and was soon converted to a worker because her father was a rightist.
After her father was sent to reeducation through labor, her second brother, who was attending high school at Chengdu No. 4 Middle School, felt that he was a man and that it was time for him to support his family, so he dropped out of school on his own and found a factory as an apprentice. His mother became anxious and went to the school principal and teachers, and together they tried to persuade him to return to the classroom. The second brother did well in the college entrance examination and was assigned to Sichuan Agricultural College because he came from a rightist family. This college was not in his application. Mother had written to the Education Bureau to ask about this, but of course to no avail – who would take up the claims of a rightist’s wife?
When my father came back, my second brother was studying at Sichuan Agricultural College in Ya’an. He did not have money to buy a ticket and did not return home until after graduation. At that time, the third brother, who was attending middle school at Chengdu Northwest Middle School, also went to pull a cart during the holidays to earn money to subsidize the family. He was also malnourished, very small, and once vomited a mouthful of blood pulling a cart.
When I entered the room, my father looked around and sighed. After a period of silence, he told me that he was going to the bathhouse to take a shower. He took off the small wooden crate he was slung over and told me that he had made it for me, his only baby daughter, by hand. The car is very crowded, others are too much for him this wooden box, told him to throw away, but he could not give up, hard to bring back to me. Wooden box inside and outside the surface of the wood are very rough, is the general packing box kind of wood, a lifetime of scholarly father will not and may not have the tools to plane flat sanding. He said that the small wooden box is for me to load books – I can read early, before going to elementary school is very fond of reading books.
When my father came home from the bathhouse, San happened to be out of school. He immediately went with his father to the Wenwu Road Public Security Bureau to pick up his father’s luggage. San said it was very cold that day, and his father, who was weak, might have caught a cold that night. When they returned home from the luggage, it was already dark. My mother and my brother took down the only door panel in the house and put two benches underneath to make a bed for my father. This bed was placed at the head of the big bed in the inner room where my mother and I slept. That night, I heard my father say to my mother: “Qingzhen, you have worked hard all these years! My mother did not answer.
The next morning my mother and my brothers went out, but my father did not get up and did not eat breakfast. He asked me to stand at the head of his makeshift bed and watched me silently for a while. I couldn’t help the tears that were trickling down my face. My father said, “Don’t shed tears. Then he asked me to give him a pen and paper, and he wrote out a list of herbal medicines and asked me to go to the pharmacy to get them. He was sick.
With my strength and size at that time, it would take me nearly two hours to walk to the nearest pharmacy at my home for a round trip. The money my father gave me was only enough for one pair of herbs. When I returned home with the herbs, my father asked me to make a decoction for him.
I still can’t remember if he had eaten that day or later. It was the famine era, and each person was given one or two taels of pork per month on a per capita basis, and had to queue up the first night. Because the pork in the butcher’s store was limited, it would soon be sold out the next morning, so if you didn’t line up all night, you wouldn’t even be able to eat the little meat. The family had a ration of food rations per person. My father had just returned home from the Ebian Shaping Labor Farm, where many people had died of starvation in those years, and had not yet reported to the police station, so his share of the ration had not yet been distributed. But in any case, he would not be deprived of food at home. He ate very little because he was sick and had no appetite at all after witnessing the tragic situation at home, so I still can’t remember how my father ate.
A pair of Chinese medicine was usually decocted only three times. For my father’s medicine, he asked me to decoct it four times. He never prescribed himself medicine again. He soon became short of breath and coughed, and I never heard him speak again, except for one day when I saw him with his eyes closed, mumbling my youngest brother’s name under his breath. After my father was sent to reeducation through labor, my brother was given to a worker, because the family was too poor, and also to release him – the “leading class” of “workers” origin. Maybe it will give him a better future.
One night, a few days later, my mother borrowed a flatbed truck to pull things and asked San to pull my father to the First People’s Hospital on Dakejia Lane near Chunxi Road – San was the only laborer in the family at that time. My mother and I followed the flatbed truck and also went to the hospital. We went to the emergency room, where my father was already in a coma. We were all dressed in rags, like a bunch of hooligans.
In the hospital, my father was placed “sitting” on a chair, his head hanging, his body limp, slumped “sitting”, as if he might slide to the floor at any moment. My mother pleaded with the doctor: Please do your best to cure my husband – he has a brother and a younger brother in Hong Kong, and they will send us money to pay for the treatment. I was surprised to hear that: I had never heard of any relatives in Hong Kong before! That was the only time in my mother’s life that she mentioned that my father had brothers in Hong Kong, and she never talked about it again, nor did we ask.
The doctor was very indifferent and didn’t raise his eyelids when he heard my mother’s words. He prescribed two small bags of glucose and sent us away from the hospital.
The third brother dragged the cart and pulled my father back to the door. The family’s strongest and tallest brother, San, was about 1.59 meters tall, and there was no way we could get our unconscious father up to the attic.
A kind downstairs neighbor said, “Let’s put him on the street outside my house! Sanko went upstairs and brought down the two benches that my father slept on after he came home and put them on the edge of the street. Then the neighbors helped carry my father up and lay him down, and my mother covered him with a quilt. In the cold winter night, my father was lying on the edge of the street, separated from the neighbor’s house by a thin wall of boards. The old neighbor lady helped my mother and put an oil lamp outside the futon at my father’s feet. I moved a small bench and sat at my father’s feet to guard the door slab bed. It was December 30, and the holiday would not be until New Year’s Day. My mother had to work the next day, and my third brother had to go to school.
The cold night was cold and windy, the street was deserted, and the small oil lamp was dark and bright. My father was silent, and in the middle of the night, I suddenly heard a short rumble in his throat, and then everything fell silent again. I knew my father was gone, just ten days after he left the reformatory and came home to this miserable world!
The next day my mother didn’t go to work, my third brother and my brothers didn’t go to school, and my father’s body was still lying on the edge of the street. The family was so poor that they had no money to bury my father.
My mother asked me to take the bus to go to Uncle Sun’s house in the north of the city to report the funeral. Uncle Sun was a good friend of my father’s, and before the 1957 anti-rightist movement, our families often spent weekends together. Uncle Sun was a chemist and had many test tubes and beakers at home. He and his aunt used to like me a lot. Their house had a big yard with a lot of bamboo and other plants. What I remember most clearly are the nettles on the edge of the small pond that dried up at his house. One summer I was playing by the pond and accidentally fell in, and got a painful red rash on my arm from the nettles. After my father’s accident, it seems that our families did not see each other.
After my father’s death, the first time I shed tears was when I met my aunt Sun. All I felt at that time was pain in my chest, so much so that I couldn’t speak. I struggled to speak, but tears came down. I choked up, my heart felt like a knife, and only uttered a few words: Dad is dead! Perhaps my mother had hoped that the Sun family would lend us some money for my father’s funeral. Aunt Sun told me with red eyes that Uncle Sun had died two years ago, and she shed tears with me. I reported the funeral and went home, without bringing back a penny.
In the afternoon, the neighbor old lady took San to the teahouse to carry the dead men kowtow. She said: please be kind, have mercy on the orphans and widows, carry the dead to the funeral home! Looking at the boy kneeling on the ground, they agreed. Two men brought a stretcher for carrying the dead, and tied the father in his torn cotton clothes to it and carried him away. We followed behind – after my mother came my third brother, after my third brother came me, and after me came my sixth and seventh brothers. We lined up, heads bowed, and silently followed the men carrying the stretcher, taking my father to the funeral home where the body was cremated.
When we arrived at the mortuary, they untied my father and put him inside. I saw that my father’s body was soft and soft, not at all the legendary stiff body of the dead. This made me suspicious, thinking that my father may not be dead. Maybe someone found out and will bring him back to life?
It was too late, and we went home without stopping at the funeral home. I don’t know if my father’s body was cremated or when it was cremated.
For a long time afterwards, I used to lie by the window on the street and watch the people coming and going below. I looked forward to my father coming to life and returning to the window of our street-level loft, shouting my mother’s name …… but he never appeared again.
The past is unbearable and destroys the heart and liver; when I look back in my twilight years, my clothes are wet with tears. When I wrote my memories, my eyes were blurred with tears and I had to leave the computer to calm down for a while before writing. Who would want to open up their deepest wounds and expose them to others? I am writing this memory not as a “memorial to forget”, but as a guardian of true history.
A friend said: “The words engraved on the stone can be weathered and eroded; the words engraved on the human heart can pass away with people; only the words engraved into history can be called the real words. This big book of history needs historical figures to be engraved. If one generation is powerless and the second generation is heartless, these sufferings will surely pass away with the wind …… a cycle of evil, it is possible to begin again.”
Finished on July 20, 2020