“You are so kind-hearted. The first day you came out of that fearful place, you helped me carry hot water, when you yourself were sick. When you saw that there was no chair in my room, you gave me your own chair. You spent so much money to move the kitchen upstairs so that I could stop running upstairs and downstairs. As soon as you sent the money back, you increased my salary and now you’re making my curtains, you’re such a good person.”
“Thank you, Auntie. I guess it’s not much.”
“Gee, I can’t let you do it anymore. You’re a decent person. But what do you think about the Cultural Revolution?”
I was aware that this last question was asked of her by the neighborhood committee, and that they were ordered to ask it by the police station.
“Well, personally, the Cultural Revolution was a very unfortunate event: I was put in prison and my daughter died. But for the country as a whole, that was certainly more important than the individual, and the Cultural Revolution was good and necessary.” I spoke the axiom. These were the words that the older sisters in the neighborhood committee wanted to hear.
Auntie clapped her hands and said with a throaty voice: “Yes, yes, you have really improved. Why don’t you tell this to the secretary of the neighborhood committee? They will have a good impression of you if you have made such progress.”
“Did they inquire about my views on the Cultural Revolution?” I asked.
“That secretary preached that your attitude was correct, do you remember? It doesn’t matter, I’ll tell her that about you when I see her at the vegetable market tomorrow. She’s going to pick up the milk every morning.” Auntie said and went back to the kitchen to prepare dinner.
She was a simple-minded person who had inadvertently divulged to me that she was going to report my situation to the branch secretary. It seemed that I was still under surveillance even though I was out of the country, and that I might not be able to let down my guard as long as I was in Shanghai, no matter how long it took.
That night I sat alone in my room and for the first time I had a thought: the best thing to do was to leave China. The only way to get rid of the political gloom, the feeling of fear, and to get real relief. My daughter was dead, and I had no other love for Shanghai. Although the idea of leaving China seemed too unrealistic and impossible at that time, I thought I had to firmly establish it and wait for an opportunity to do so.
It seemed that God had lifted my eyes so that I could see the distant green hills on the horizon.
Chapter 14: Seeking Justice
I often dreamed of my daughter being brutally tortured, tortured, and dying in a room splattered with blood. I wake up gasping for air. I lay in the darkness, my heart pounding, as a horrific vision continued to appear. I decided to go to the Shanghai Sports Association building on Nanjing Road to take a closer look myself. As soon as my health permitted, I should carry out the action that would make me sad. In this way I could have a clear idea of the location of Man Ping’s death, and if the situation permitted, I had to conduct some investigation. But I could not let my aunt know of this intention, for fear that she might report it to her elder sister in the residents’ committee. So I had to use my daily walks to take the bus to Nanjing Road. So, I consciously extended my daily walk to two hours a day.
“You’ve walked so much in the past few days! Your body has really gotten stronger and you look rosy. Take a break! Let me get you a cup of tea,” my aunt used to say in a straight voice when I returned home.
After my long daily walks had become the norm, my aunt stopped nagging me about being away from home too long. I thought it was time for me to put my plan into action.
Nanjing Road is the main artery of Shanghai traffic. It runs from the Bund to the western suburbs of Huangpu River and across the city. Before the liberation of Shanghai in 1949, the Shanghai Sports Association building was the headquarters of the International Youth Association. It was located in the middle section of Nanjing Road, facing what used to be Happy Valley and is now People’s Park. It was a half-hour bus ride from my house. As is always the case in Shanghai, the bus was always crowded. When I got on the bus, I didn’t have the strength to push my way in, so I had to stand at the entrance of the bus, supported by the crowd around me, in order to stand still. The woman standing next to me squeezed my chest so hard at times that I thought she might have heard my heart thumping. I was very worried on the way, fearing that something unexpected might happen on this trip. So I had a strong mental urgency to go and see, but an emotional desire to go home. Finally, when the bus arrived at the destination stop, I was still hesitant. But everyone on the bus was getting off, and I was led off by the passengers who had squeezed out and found myself standing on the sidewalk.
I strolled through the crowd, looking with both eyes at the building across the street. Next door to the Sports Association was the International Hotel and the Da Guangming Cinema. Both are buildings from the 1930s, but are still major icons of Shanghai’s cityscape. The red cloth banners hanging on these two buildings fluttered in the autumn breeze. On the banners are written slogans of the Cultural Revolution, “Politics is the Commander-in-Chief” and “Never forget the class struggle”. The neon lights on the roof of the building shone another slogan, encouraging the people to “carry the revolution to the end. When people around me saw me looking up at the bustling streets of Shanghai, they thought I was a foreigner from another part of China. No one would pay special attention to me. I staggered through the crowd, both eyes on the floor of the Shanghai Sports Association looking for a window. Groups of pedestrians on the road pushed me around violently.
At the entrance of People’s Park, men, women and children were lining up to buy tickets. Some were waiting for their friends or loved ones. I stopped and stood with them, looking across the road at the building across the street again. But I only counted up to the eighth floor and didn’t see the ninth floor, above which was the sloping roof. In order not to be noticed, I wandered back and forth to the park entrance as if I were waiting for someone. I still looked upward at the building, but I just couldn’t see the ninth floor where people said Manning had jumped off. I strolled through People’s Park while analyzing my newfound importance, then turned back and walked back. That’s when I saw the ninth floor next to the Shanghai Sports Association building and the window above it. That window does not face Nanjing Road. It was located above the narrow alley between the building and a very low two-story house. The window was very narrow and had an iron grille. Whether a person’s body could squeeze through the gap in the grille, I cannot easily say yet.
What I found was completely different from what I had heard, and I needed time to think about it. I bought a ticket to enter People’s Park and sat quietly on a chair in the corner. I could see the nine-story building on top of the building across the street. I looked at the narrow window with the iron grille and pondered the truth of my daughter’s death. I thought there was more to it than what I knew. The warm sunshine brought a breeze that rustled the autumn leaves on the ground. Although I heard the noise of cars and people on the road, I felt extremely lonely inside my grief-filled heart, alone as a man isolated on a desert island.