Shanghai Life and Death(106)

“Deng Xiaoping, the former General Secretary, has also been rehabilitated and will see the press in the next few days; he will become the Premier’s assistant, and probably the Premier wants him to succeed himself. Jiang Qing’s gang, however, is going to pick one of their own people to succeed Premier Zhou.”

“What about Mao Gui Xi? He won’t come out and make a decision?”

“He will. But will he be able to make the right decision? He is also very sick now. I heard that Jiang Qing has hollowed him out and won’t let any other national leader get close to him. It’s a time of change. Although I am an actor, I spend most of my time in political study classes or working in the commune, and I have no performance opportunities at all. I just feel that my life has been completely wasted.”

“I still don’t know anything about the Cultural Revolution. A few days ago, Xi showed me some leaflets of the Red Guards, and I was interested in them, do you have any material on this?” I asked him.

“I have some at home that might be of interest to you. Because it is uncensored, much of it is about the inside story of the struggle for leadership within the Party. Of course, the Red Guards published such leaflets for the sole purpose of exposing the ‘capitalists’, but they inadvertently exposed the entire leadership structure, and some of the verbal tales were far more serious than those on the leaflets; you just didn’t have a chance to hear them. But the main content of these leaflets is nothing more than radical revolutionary content. I can put together some of the most interesting ones for you.”

Kong bade me farewell, and I accompanied him to the mouth of the escalator, where a piece of lime came off the ceiling. “Why doesn’t XI paint this house?” He asked.

“There wasn’t enough money. They only sent me back five thousand to handle all this.”

“You can ask your superiors for more money. Now that the situation has eased a little, it’s a good opportunity, and maybe it will change again in a few months.”

“And will the leader who handles my deposits take the opportunity to reprimand me or insult me?” I said, “I’d rather borrow money from my brother than deal with the rebel faction that handles my money.”

“Okay, I’ll bring two friends to paint your walls next Saturday.” Kong suggested.

“No. I can’t let you do that.”

“We’re friends with Man-ping, and it’s our duty to help you.”

“And how should I thank you? There are others, and I don’t even know them.”

“Maybe one day they will beg you to help with something. As for me, I have benefited from your hospitality for many years, and now, I should do something for you to show my gratitude.”

So with only fifteen dollars for paint, Kong and two other film studio youths, using tools and ladders borrowed from the factory, painted the two rooms, the lanai and the walkway. They told me that every unit could borrow public tools to do private work, as long as they were returned to their rightful owners. This has become a habit. Kong also brought me a pile of Red Guard leaflets.

Xi’s mother found a gynecologist, Dr. Wu, on my behalf and she agreed to examine me. She told me that Dr. Wu had graduated from the Union Medical College before the liberation and that she had long clinical experience. Now she is taking over Dr. Guo Wisp’s position as the head of the gynecology department of the Second Medical College Hospital in Shanghai.

“Dr. Wu, a friend of a friend of mine’s daughter, is in the clinic every Thursday to answer some difficult cases that young doctors cannot diagnose. She has an appointment for you to visit next Thursday. In order to avoid dealing with the young doctors in the outpatient department, my friend’s daughter has asked for leave to accompany you.”

“That’s not good. I don’t want her to take a day off to accompany me; I’ll just go by myself.”

“She also wanted to meet you. I told her that you studied in England and she was very keen to teach her English after you recovered.”

I felt like I was being drawn into this “back door” web. But what other recourse did I have? If I had to follow the rules, I would have to wait in line early in the morning and I wouldn’t be able to meet a senior doctor like Dr. Wu.

I went to see Dr. Wu on Thursday, and she concluded that I was not suffering from cancer, but from an extreme endocrine disorder, “probably due to a long period of depression and abnormal life”. She used such polite language as a metaphor for my prolonged captivity. She suggested that I simply have my uterus removed in lieu of long-term treatment. Because the latter might take a longer period of treatment, I was afraid that the hospital work would be politically implicated and that there might be another change of heart at some point. It seems that, like Kong, she was prepared for continued political struggles and thought that the current calm was just a break between storms.

A week later I had a successful operation. I spent three weeks in the hospital in a room packed with twenty-five patients. Some of them had cancer, and the beds were only a foot wide apart, and their thin, bony bodies and moans of pain were as depressing and miserable as the ones I felt in the ward. Really, when I first woke up from the anesthesia, I thought I was back in a prison hospital for a while.

While I was in the hospital, I received a notice from my bank that my foreign exchange deposit had been unfrozen, which made it much easier for me to move around. I sent an additional wedding gift to Xi and invited her husband and children to come to Shanghai for the Chinese New Year.

After I was discharged from the hospital, I got dentures again. When I first put them in my mouth, I was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t stand it, so I subconsciously took them out immediately, which was like having two big pots in my mouth. The dentist told me that I could take them off at night to relax. However, I decided to keep my dentures on 24 hours a day to speed up my adjustment process and shorten the time I had to suffer. When I couldn’t sleep at night because of discomfort, I took sleeping pills.

Now, I have enough money to improve my living environment. I put a door in the back escalator, moved the utensils from the upstairs bathroom to the pantry below, and installed a water and gas stove where the bathroom used to be. This was done by three workers sent by the housing office and I paid them for the work. Thanks to Kong and his friend, I was able to buy the water pipe. The wood for the back door and the tiles for the bathroom were obtained through the “back door”.

The workers were paid a fixed salary by the building management office, so they could not accept any additional payment for their work. Under such circumstances, they would not be motivated to work and would simply do the job perfunctorily, disregarding the quality, and delaying the work, but I could not pay them again, which was illegal. In order to encourage them to do the work quickly and well, I had to improve their “treatment”, so to speak, including high-class cigarettes, sumptuous dishes plus beer and yellow wine. Kong, aunts and other friends, to help me in various places in line to open the “back door” to buy some of the most popular goods. When the project was over, I gave each of the three young people a gift and told them I was going to build a wall in the foyer to divide it into two, but I couldn’t buy bricks. None of them had a “back door” to buy bricks either, but they were willing to help me build the wall after work when I got the bricks.