“Kiln Donkey”

Once I was eating donkey hot pot with my daughter in a small store, and looking at the paintings of donkeys posted on the wall, I inadvertently remembered the word “kiln donkey”. I said to my daughter, who was holding a hot pot and eating it, “Do you know about kiln donkeys?” She looked confused.

In fact, I knew for sure that she didn’t know what a “kiln donkey” was. Not only did she not know, but there were only a few people in the world who knew about it. The word “kiln donkey” was something I learned in 1969 when I went to Inner Mongolia Production and Construction Corps, Fifteenth Regiment, and did the brick-making business. The people there called the people who carried bricks in the brick kiln “kiln donkeys”.

I am a junior high school graduate of Beijing Ninety-sixth High School. I said I was a junior high school graduate, but my actual education was only high school. During my only year and a half in high school, besides celebrating the release of the latest and highest instructions on the street every now and then, I went to the suburbs to participate in labor. I went to the suburbs of Daxing County several times, for as little as half a month or as much as a month each time. I was able to pluck wheat, dig ditches, pick cotton, glean the land, and do most of the work in the countryside, and experience the bitterness of the countryside and the tiredness of farm work, so I was prepared for the hardships of going to the countryside. I never thought that this preparation was not enough. The real hardship and fatigue began when I was a “donkey in a kiln”.

On August 29, 1969, more than eighty students from our school stepped on the train to Inner Mongolia Corps and came to the Second Division, Fifteenth Regiment, Vice Industry Company. When we arrived at the company, it was about eleven o’clock the next night. Before I got off the train, I saw a kiln-like door in front of me, which was burning with a roaring fire and shining brightly in the darkness. I was curious and asked our comrades who received us after we got off the bus, and they told me that it was a brick kiln.

When I woke up, it was already dawn. When I stepped out of the housing, I saw three rows of adobe houses and two huge structures (this is relative to the surrounding buildings). When I got closer, I saw two cylinders covering an area the size of two basketball courts each, more than ten meters high, with a small top and a large bottom. There are narrow ramps along the edges of the cylinders all the way to the top, and two or three doorways leading to the columns are staggered in the middle.

An old youth told us that this was the brick kiln. Because the shape is a bit like a horse’s hoof, so it is also called “horseshoe kiln”. The big kiln in the west can hold 130,000 bricks, and the one in the east is a continuous kiln, two built together, one can hold 70,000 bricks and one can hold 50,000 bricks. He pointed to the right a few hundred meters in front of the construction of several rows of brick wall houses told us that those rooms are our company’s new canteen, auditorium and dormitory, with the green bricks are these three brick kilns burned out.

Fifteen regiments are located in the Inner Mongolia Loop, where the ditches are crisscrossed, farmland irrigation is very convenient. However, due to the high water table, year-round sunshine, “water away from the salt to stay”, resulting in a large amount of salt and alkali on the surface. Red bricks are not saline resistant and will be corroded and crisped in three to five years, but only houses built with green bricks can be used for a long time.

The process of making red bricks is different from that of making green bricks. When we studied brick making in Baotou, the factory used a “wheel kiln”. The kiln is a large, long, circular kiln, with the beginning and end connected. The kiln can be filled, fired, cooled, and discharged at the same time, and the process goes on all year round, producing red bricks. The production of green bricks has to add a process of “blasting”. After the firing process of bricks is completed, the kiln roof is sealed and a pool of water is built on top of the kiln roof, which is injected into the pool so that the water slowly seeps into the kiln while it is still hot. After several days of blotting, a chemical reaction occurs in the kiln and the red bricks become green bricks.

There is a big difference in the labor intensity and efficiency of workers in these two brick-making processes. The area of the wheel kiln is large, the kiln door is basically flush with the ground, workers load the kiln, out of the kiln with a cart, labor intensity is relatively small and more efficient; horseshoe kiln covers an area of smaller, in order to load more bricks, built higher, the kiln door is distributed along the cylinder at different heights, the ramp is very steep, the cart can not go up, loaded out of the kiln can only be carried by people, labor intensity and low efficiency. The “kiln donkeys” were the people who carried the bricks out of the kiln on their backs with their bodies. A few days after I arrived at the company, I became a “kiln donkey”. I was only sixteen and a half years old at that time. At that time, most of the “kiln donkeys” were youths, those who were older than me were not even a few years older, and there were even younger ones than me.

The 15th regiment was formed on the basis of the former labor farm. The adobe house we lived in and the two brick kilns were all remnants of the original farm. When we first arrived at the company, the prisoners in custody had not yet had time to be discharged, and most of them were working in the brick kilns. After the youth arrived at the company, they did the same work as the inmates every day, carrying bricks on their backs and loading them out of the kiln. They lived in the three rows of adobe houses they vacated. After that, the inmates were transferred one after another, and the “kiln donkeys” were all played by the youth.

Carrying bricks is a “technical” job. To say that carrying bricks is a technical job is to say that there must be certain skills to carry bricks. Skills are not mastered, not only the bricks on the back will fall down and hit themselves, but also a waste of bricks not out of work. Back brick is made of cowhide strip “leather tab”. It hangs on the top of the person’s shoulders, the bottom side hangs on the two corners of the brick stomp, brick stomp on the back of the person, in the tailbone above and the support of the back of the shoulder, the person can carry the brick up. At that time, we called such a good brick stomp “brick back”. A brick back is twenty-seven bricks or billets according to the standard, each brick billet is about six pounds heavy (fired green bricks are lighter than billets), so a “brick back” is more than one hundred and sixty pounds.

Learn from the labor inmates from the code “back” method, concave and convex, cross each other, although the brick billet without any connection between the fixed measures, brick back can fit well in the body, walking will not easily fall apart. Of course, the back of the brick people must master the skills, back up after the brick to support the chest, collapse waist, pout, which is not up to standard, the brick back is not in your body honestly stay. Back brick walking is also very delicate, can not walk like normal people, so the brick back will be due to the body’s twisting and “thin”. Back brick walking must be “along the corner” to walk, so that the body always remain in the “translation” state, so that the brick back will not fall apart.

Say back brick is “technical” work, just that back brick need to have a certain skill, in fact, back brick is really a strength work. Without a certain amount of strength, without a period of exercise, these skills are difficult to master. At that time, each person was required to carry two thousand bricks in and out of the kiln every day, twenty-seven bricks a trip, every day is more than seventy trips. The billet field is a dozen meters away from the kiln, and two or three hundred meters away, so the average round trip is at least one hundred and fifty meters, which is nearly thirty miles a day. Not to mention carrying more than one hundred and sixty pounds of bricks step by step up the narrow and steep kiln road, is empty, a day to walk thirty miles of flat avenue, people will also be very tired.

It is the nature of young people to do so. Although carrying bricks was painful and tiring, we would often compete with each other to see who could carry more bricks on their backs. At that time, the most number of bricks to carry Liu Gan, Gao Hong, Cao Dianman a few, they are the company’s Hercules. I do not remember exactly, it seems that they have carried more than 60 bricks, equivalent to nearly four hundred pounds. Cai Zhenxin, Zhang Limin, Guo Kaiyuan and others were also very powerful, carrying 40 or 50 bricks on their backs.

In addition to the doorway below the kiln, there are three kiln doors from the bottom to the top, the bottom two are covered, and only the uppermost door is “open air”. Forty, fifty, fifty or sixty bricks were naturally carried in a different way than twenty-seven bricks, which were high and wide (at that time people called it a “chicken coop”, but now they think of it as the landmark of the Shanghai World Expo), so the kiln door at the bottom was not accessible at all, but only the top one. So, the more bricks you carry, the higher you have to climb, and the more tired you are.

At that time, I had a similarly impressive performance as they did. The bricks in the billet yard were placed row by row, and each row was roughly 6,000 bricks. The platoon set up a group of three people to carry this row of bricks into the kiln every day. At that time, I was often in a group with Jianbao and Xiaodong, and the three of us worked well together, two carrying bricks and one yarding “back”. The bricks were more tiring, but the yards were easier, and the three people took turns doing it. Because Xiaodong’s body is slightly stronger than mine, Jianbao’s body is not as good as mine, so most of the time is Jianbao code “back”, Xiaodong and I carry.

At that time, young and vigorous, work is not defeated, Xiaodong and I often “fight”. At most, we had carried thirty-nine bricks and billets, and we were on the highest kiln door. At that time, my weight was more than ninety pounds, and thirty-nine billets was more than two hundred and thirty pounds, which was two and a half times of my weight. Every time I carried bricks up the slope, my legs would tremble, and I would pant like a bellows. At this time, I could see that people can really do more than donkeys.

It was impossible to achieve such “achievement” without a “transformation”. At that time, I can say that I was as thin as a bone. One year, the regiment hospital rescued a comrade and needed AB blood. At that time, the regiment loudspeaker broadcast, calling for several companies around the regiment’s blood type AB comrades to sign up to donate blood. Cai Zhenxin and I were the only ones in the company with this blood type, so we both signed up, and Cai Zhenxin donated blood. Afterwards, I asked Dr. Wang Junxiao why he didn’t let me donate blood, and Dr. Wang said, “You don’t have enough “weight”. It was then that I learned that the state requires men to be 100 pounds to donate blood. At that time, I was just over ninety pounds, and in that survival environment, I have been “keeping” this record for years.

I remember when I first carried the brick, the brick on the shoulder, I wobbled. Often did not take a few steps, the brick back on the frame, brick bricks down the neck, several times nearly hit on the feet. My back was sore and my bones felt like they were falling apart when I lay on the bed. Every morning and after a nap, it was time to go back to work before the body had fully recovered. Even if I could barely move off the ground with my hands on my aching legs, it was hard to take a few steps. When I carried the first brick of the day, my legs were the most sore and painful. Only after gritting my teeth, enduring the pain, and wobbling through a few bricks, the soreness in my legs would be slightly relieved.

In addition to the soreness of the legs, the back of the injury also painful. After a few days of rubbing, the skin of my back has been “opened up” above the tailbone and the protruding part of my spine, which are in “close contact” with the bricks every day. I let my comrades in the same room help me apply red salve, and from a distance, it looked like a string of candy canes stuck in the back of a person.

At that time, the “labor insurance” is a sack made of “shoulder”, the back of the shoulder with a wire hanging three old shoe soles, one in the position of the shoulder, two in the position of the tailbone. Above the tailbone is to support the important part of the brick back, one or two hundred pounds of weight almost all pressed there, walking step grinding, this “labor insurance” basically does not work, so the tailbone was worn above the largest area. Broken good, good and broken, grinding for a long time, where a cocoon like a cocoon and not like a cocoon of the raised hard flesh lumps.

I had a silkworm as a child, the silkworm’s life to molt two or three times to grow. The silkworm molting is a painful process, do not eat or drink, but also often twist the body, in order to make the old skin off as soon as possible. After the old skin is shed, the silkworm obviously grows a lot. However, there are some silkworms, because they failed to molt the old skin and died. In fact, people are the same, after the ordeal will also be metamorphosed, most will become strong and mature.

When I was in the first platoon, there were two platoon leaders. One was named Wang Yongsheng and the other Wang Shichun. They are both recovered soldiers, people are also very real, very capable. Nearly 30 years old, every day is not less than the intellectuals do.

There is one thing that I still remember very clearly. When I was carrying bricks, I often broke the bricks, and some of the bricks fell to the ground and broke. One day, Wang Yongsheng, who was walking in front of me carrying bricks, turned around and saw the bricks I had dropped on the ground and broken, was very distressed and yelled at me, “Can’t you be more careful? I also know that he was responsible for the work, but I still aggrieved back: “You think I did it on purpose? He looked at me then, did not say anything turned his head and walked away. The way he looked at me is still fresh in my mind, the gaze was full of apology and sympathy.

In the fall of that year, I was transferred to the sixth class of the second platoon, and together with my old squad leader Song Yuanxin and later my partner Liu Bingjan, I was sent to the Baotou brick factory to learn how to make bricks. In the next year or two, although the main focus was on billet making, I didn’t stop carrying bricks during the period.

In 1971, because there were not enough men in the first platoon, we asked the company to transfer the sixth squad to the first platoon. At that time, the sixth squad was one of the more capable squads, often completing some of the more difficult tasks independently. Like the Wuliang Suhai reeds, we are the advance; installation of the two-meter thick culvert near the regimental headquarters of the Yangtze Ditch, our class of eight or nine people to get; the regimental headquarters to build a house we rammed the foundation and so on. All these hard and tiring work was done independently without supervision. So, our sixth class was transferred to the first platoon, and I became a “full-time” kiln donkey.

At this time, the leader of the first platoon was Wang Shichun. After more than two years of training, my back brick “skills” has improved greatly, back brick is very comfortable. At that time, three people a line of bricks, we all start to carry from a distance, the figure is the closer to the brick kiln, the more tired to walk the shorter the distance (Zhao Jianzheng in order to reduce physical exertion, but also invented the backward climbing brick method), and, brick back into the kiln door after a step do not want to walk, see where there is an empty brick back stuffed into, so that the then “code kiln “The girls were very tired.

At that time, when I saw too many bricks at the kiln door, I always took a few more steps to put the bricks on my back in a little place, which was only for the convenience of the girls who worked at the kiln, but I didn’t expect to be praised by Wang Shichun.

The last thing I wanted to do was to work the night shift. At that time, in order to speed up the progress of kiln loading and to fire more bricks in the peak season, kiln loading was often divided into day and night shifts in two consecutive shifts. I am a good sleeper, no matter how long I sleep during the day, I am still sleepy at night. Then there was the poor lighting in the billet yard, not only did I stumble and fall, but I was often hit by the fallen bricks.

Once I was yard back, the brick stomped unsteadily and the brick back fell down. If it were daytime, this situation could have been avoided by holding it up immediately and putting something under the bricks. But the dark vision is not clear, people’s reaction is slow, before I can react, the whole back of a brick fell on my face. The good thing is that the brick back is not high, the distance is also close, just a heavy smash, no broken face. I covered my face squatting on the ground, half a day to get over it.

At that time, the most happy, the most expected is the sky cloudy rain. Once it was raining, the company had to finish loading the kiln so that the bricks would not get wet and soaked in the rain. The kiln is filled, the top is sealed, and the fire is fired, so there is no fear of any storm, and everything is fine. We call loading the kiln before the rain “robbing the kiln”, generally the entire company mobilization, can come to all, regardless of men and women, regardless of the young and old, back of the back, hold the hold, hundreds of mouth like ants moving, in the billet field and brick kiln shuttle, the scene is very spectacular.

At the climax, the company commander stood on top of the kiln, with his strong Shanxi accent, yelled to the direction of the canteen: “The cooking class kill the pig!” So, the whole billet field is a jubilation, whether it is carrying, holding, the speed of the two feet are faster. The rainy day was our “rest day”, we could sleep beautifully and eat a meal of pork that the company commander treated us to.

In 1969, the conflict between China and the former Soviet Union broke out on Zhenbao Island, which suddenly strained Sino-Soviet relations, and the Inner Mongolia Corps began its military training in the winter of that year. At that time, the company trained while producing, digging trenches, practicing firing, and practicing bomb throwing every day, and was very busy. One afternoon I was practicing bomb throwing with a comrade from Hoh on the empty field in front of the kiln, and he threw a trainer bomb at me from the west. At that time, my body bounced up and fell to the ground in a horizontal position. I almost didn’t pass out because of the pain in my eyes.

After the treatment by health worker Yue Zhiqiang, the pain was reduced, but since then, I have been suffering from knee pain. Especially after carrying the bricks, my knees always hurt from time to time. When the pain was severe, I went to the health room at night and asked the hygienist, Xiao Yue, to give me a shot of “closure”. I was once admitted to the hospital because my knee swelled up due to an infection from the injection, and more than 20 ml of pus was extracted from the knee cavity and injected several times with antibiotics.

After treatment, the swelling in the knee joint went down, but the joint pain was still not cured. At that time, we had no books to read, and we only read “everyday”. What we heard on the newspapers and radio was how heroic people had carried forward the spirit of fearless revolution and the spirit of struggle without fear of death by studying the writings of Chairman Mao. I don’t know about others, but I was convinced at the time. Back brick knee pain, recite in the heart: a fear of suffering, two fear of death, a fear of suffering, two fear of death, a fear of suffering, two fear of death ……

Now I think about it and laugh, doing the work of a donkey, the head is also like being kicked by a donkey.