Shanghai Life and Death(105)

In the afternoon, Xi told me that I had contacted my cousin who was a dentist at the Sixth Hospital and would go for a dental check-up the next morning.

“I’ve already given her your name and age, so she can fill out your medical history card and register you, put your card in front of the others, and then we can be seen immediately when we get there.” Xi said.

“Isn’t that illegal? Won’t it cause trouble for your cousin?” I was a little worried.

“No, everyone does that now. Every doctor has his own ‘back door’ patients, and even a party member and higher-up leader brings his friends and relatives to the ‘back door’.”

During my time in Detention Center No. 1, China seemed to have changed, not in the direction that the Cultural Revolution thought would lead the country forward. The next day Xi went with me to her cousin’s place. Sure enough, everything was just as Xi had said, and although the waiting room was full, we went straight into the consultation room. There were other “back door” patients in there too. Strangely enough, no one objected to this and the others just sat there looking at us as if by default, we could go in before them. Although they had been waiting for a long time, we had just arrived.

I asked Xi why the many patients who were waiting were so calm and accepting of this unfair treatment. Xi said, “They have other ‘back doors’ of their own, and although they don’t have them here, they have their priorities elsewhere.”

“What about people who don’t have a ‘back door’?”

“Just look for them! As long as you have friends and family, you’ll always find the ‘back door’.” She said to me.

This was my first encounter with the concept of “back door”. But after a while, I became an expert at opening back doors myself. I volunteered to teach English to friends and family in exchange for various “backdoor” access. With the rapprochement between the U.S. and China, scientific and technological materials began to be imported, thus requiring a large amount of English, and thus a large number of English teachers. Aspiring young people aspired to be interpreters for government delegations abroad, and some studied English in preparation for emigration, and letters requesting to learn English from me poured in like snowflakes.

When the central government announced that foreign exchange deposits could be unfrozen in order to obtain the thirsty remittances, I had the opportunity to retrieve a large sum of money. This was originally remitted to China to buy some goods that were in short supply only in foreign currency at the Friendship Store. Usually I used it to buy coal for heating in winter and wood for house repairs. Once the money was returned to me, I would have no more financial problems and could thank the people who opened the “back door” for me.

This is all for later. At that time, Xi took me to her dental cousin’s office, and I felt a bit uncomfortable and unglamorous entering the consultation room in front of so many patients who came before me but could not be seen in time.

My cousin examined my teeth and said that my teeth were in very bad condition and that the gingivitis had been delayed for too long by the infection, so the usual treatment was not effective. She said, “Although none of your teeth are broken, they all need to be pulled.”

She looked at my thin body and continued, “You are not in good health, so you can’t pull your teeth every day, so you have to pull one every other day. When your health improves a bit, we can shorten the interval between extractions.”

After coming out of the hospital, Xi accompanied me to the store to buy a clock that I needed very much. Outside the store, a man sat on a low stool with a scale in front of him, and for three cents, he could tell the weight. I weighed myself, including clothes, a total of only eighty-five pounds, thirty-three pounds less than I originally wanted. From then on, I went to the old man’s place regularly to weigh myself until I left Shanghai.

After I had gradually recovered, the dentist pulled one or two teeth every day until none remained. She said I should wait until the muscles in my gums had aged before I could get dentures. I was frustrated because I couldn’t speak clearly, and without my teeth, I could only eat fluids. And when I saw my toothless face in the mirror, I felt so uncomfortable that I put a big mask on myself, even at home.

One day Xi told me that I was now fit enough to walk freely on the street alone, so she was going back to Guiyang. Her family was waiting for her. I was very grateful for what she had done for me, and I felt quite sad to see her go.

One Sunday morning, Kong came. We sat on the balcony in the warm daylight, and he couldn’t tell us more about Man Ping’s story, but he also doubted the “suicide” conclusion made by his superiors.

“I’ve known Manning for a long time, since we were teenagers. She doesn’t have the personality to commit suicide. Besides, what did she do in the Sports Commission? Who took her there? Surely it couldn’t have been our factory rebels who brought her there; they could have interrogated her at the studio.”

“Could she have been taken to the Sports Committee because she had been the captain of the women’s rowing team?”

“No, I don’t think so. The Shanghai Sports Committee has been disbanded, and that building was taken over by an affiliate of the Shanghai Militia Command. I heard there was a secret interrogation office inside, and those who went in were in bad luck.” Kong said.

He stood up and went to look at the door of his aunt’s room, afraid she was eavesdropping.

When he returned to his seat, I asked worriedly, “Is there torture there?”

He didn’t make a sound for a long time. I repeated it again before he said, “Alas, the people who were brought there, not only Man Ping died inside.”

The Manning that came to my mind was not just lying in a pool of blood, but her slim body was still bruised and tortured to the bone. So tragic! I shivered all over.

“All her friends were sad about her death.” Kong said, “One day, I’ll have to get to the bottom of it. But for now, there’s nothing to do at all, the political situation is still very unstable.”

“Didn’t the prime minister come out to preside?” I asked.

“After Lin Biao’s death, the Premier’s power is a bit greater, but Jiang Qing and her gang are still around, and they won’t rest until they get the big power in their hands. When Lin Biao self-exploded, they had to hide some for a while, because at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, Jiang Qing and Lin Biao were quite close. And the Premier was seriously ill again. People in Beijing who came to visit our factory said that the Premier had cancer.”

“Oh, that’s terrible!” I said.