Shanghai Life and Death(102)

“How did they torture her and bring her to her deathbed? I don’t think an able-bodied young woman would think of committing suicide unless she was forced to.”

“I heard that her name was among the list of suicides read out at the film factory conference. Yesterday someone from the Public Security Bureau said to me not to tell you about this situation. He said that tomorrow the Film Factory Revolutionary Committee would come and explain it to you.” Xi said.

“Did they announce the reason for her suicide?”

“I was at that meeting. But in general, it’s always said that the suicide victim had a bad attitude toward the Cultural Revolution.”

“Empty words!” I said.

“That’s right. I really don’t know if we will ever learn the truth about what happened. But I’m sure that no one will dare to raise this issue.” She continued.

I thought to myself, “I have to find out why she died. This may take a longer time. But I will not rest until I find out what happened. But I have to be very careful, or let the above notice, will come to try to stop interference with me. I couldn’t let anyone perceive my plan, including Xi.

“Are you working in Shanghai now?” I asked Xi.

“Oh, no. I was notified of my return by the Municipal Public Security Bureau. They sent an official letter to my unit, asking for a month’s leave. That was almost two weeks ago. At first, the Public Security Bureau wanted Mom to take care of all this for you, but she had a heart attack a year ago and could no longer go to the store line, so the Bureau asked me to come back. I’m going back to Guiyang soon, and I need to look after my children. I am married and have a son and a daughter.” With that, Xi happily took out a photo of her whole family’s life from her handbag.

“Congratulations.” I said.

There was a beautiful girl of about four or five years old in the photo, and a healthy baby boy, plus her and her husband facing the camera.

“His name is Li Dong, and he was assigned to Guiyang after graduating from the Beijing Theatre Academy. At that time, the Guiyang Cultural Bureau was busy uncovering the ‘capitalists’ internally, and the rebels were fighting each other for leadership, and were in a state of chaos, so no one cared about the college students assigned there. So they sent us all to the commune to work and receive ‘re-education’. Li Dong and I soon became friends, and the labor in the commune on the outskirts of Guiyang was very hard. Because there were all terraced fields. Every day, we had to carry heavy burdens of fertilizer and water, and walk up and down hundreds of steps between the terraced fields. The peasants were very rude to us, they hated the fact that we had to share their very small amount of food, but they didn’t dare to refuse to accept us. So they don’t welcome us. Even if we worked hard, we were always told that we did not work hard enough. I was very afraid of them. Sometimes I thought that I would die here alive and never return home. Li Dong always took care of me, and when the peasants misbehaved with me, he would come out to protect me. He was a playwright, so he knew many ancient Chinese novels well. He often relieved my boredom with his humor and funny stories.”

“Did you and Li Dong have a good life together?”

“Yes, we had a very happy life. He cares a lot about me and the children. Did you know? He is secretly writing a play about the Cultural Revolution called ‘Madness’, a satire.”

“Oh my! If that script falls into the hands of the rebels, something will happen. You are living in a public house, right? I’m worried for him because he’s taking such a risk.”

“Li Dong said he had to write it, otherwise his head would explode with anger. Besides, the rebels in our unit got along with him fine, so they wouldn’t search our apartment. Li Dong was like an underground counsellor for the rebels. These people were very poorly educated and had never read a Marxist book. They asked Li Dong to draft speeches for them because he could quote from Marxist-Leninist books and Mao Gui Xi’s works, which made the rebels look good and the masses would think he was educated. Sometimes, when the rebels engaged in factional fights, Li Dong also plotted and planned for them.” Xi told me.

“Why should that be?”

Xi laughed back and forth: “Li Dong said that because he himself could not kill the rebels, the best way was to let them kill each other in factional brawls.”

I was too stunned to speak. I asked Xi about Li Dong’s family situation, and it became clear that his repression was the result of a family tragedy. His older brother was a teacher who believed in the Communist Party. He was classified as a rightist in 1957, which led to his sister-in-law’s suicide. His father was beaten as a landlord by the Red Guards, who put him in a sack and kicked him senselessly, causing him to have a heart attack and die.

“I take it you are no longer in the countryside?”

“No longer. Ever since Chairman Mao invited the U.S. ping-pong team to visit Beijing, he transferred us to Guiyang. Suddenly, the rebels were very friendly to us, because I was born in Australia. They thought Australia was the same thing as the United States.” Xi laughed loudly, “Each person had to follow Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line closely, and the rebel faction paid close attention to the steps of the central government. The U.S. ping-pong team visited Beijing and expressed China’s willingness to be friendly with the United States. Some say that the Central Politburo only has to take a breath and a storm will blow across the whole Chinese land.”

“What is your occupation now?”

“Accompanying the Guiyang Song and Dance Troupe.”

Xi’s mother arrived. My old friend had aged so much that I could hardly recognize her. Her wrinkled face showed a look of decadence and a look of brokenness. She embraced me warmly and exclaimed, “You look better than I thought you would. Heh! It makes me so happy to see you.”

I recalled Sydney, Australia, twenty-six years ago, when we were both young mothers, followed by two little girls in folded sun dresses, walking side by side, toy buckets and shovels in hand, and then starting to build a yellow sand bunker along the golden beach. We could never have imagined that our own place would collapse so soon, just like the bunkers built of yellow sand. Xi’s father was working at the Chinese Consulate in Sydney at the time. We came back to China with a heart full of love.

Naturally, Xi’s mother was also thinking of Man Ping. She said, “You have to be strong. The past is gone and we can’t undo it. The main thing now is your health. Your health is not good, and excessive grief is not good for you. You have to relax.”

She then told me about their situation during the Cultural Revolution. The series of humiliations and persecutions they had suffered were much the same as some of those who had worked for the Kuomintang government and returned from overseas. She said she had been approved to retire as a teacher, but her husband was still working in a bank, and because they had not been classified as bourgeois, they were still living in the same house, and the Red Guards had only burned their books and confiscated their “treasures.