LIFE IN EXILE
Our stay in northern Fujian lasted for 4 years (1958-1962). During those years, food was rationed. The ration for our Labor Camp was about half a pound per person per day. It was not known whether the cadres had embezzled any portion or how much the kitchen staff had taken in excess of their rationed portions. The provision for breakfast was 2.2 ounces, for lunch 4.4 ounces and for dinner 2.2 ounces. As for vegetables, for the first few months we were given each a bowl of onion soup with only 1 spoonful of onion. Later, a sideline production team was formed to grow vegetables, mainly those species that were fast-growing and highly productive, such as eggplant, mustard, cabbage, water spinach, cucumber, and large pickling cabbage. For each meal, we had only a small quantity of just one type of vegetable that was often over-ripe. Sometimes we had the leaves of sweet potatoes and half a piece of preserved bean-curd. There were 10 of us in a squad, and we took turns everyday to bring the food back in a basin for sharing. As we were starved, we all wanted more, even if it was just a tiny bit more; so we all kept our eyes wide-opened when food was being divided. For dinner, we had sweet potatoes as a substitute for grain; based on the conversion ratio of one to six, we each had 13.2 ounces of sweet potatoes. When the inmate on duty brought back the sweet potatoes, we followed 3 steps of action: first, turned them into 10 piles of similar size; then, with our self-made scale, ensured equal weight for each pile; finally, we cast lots. Even so, every one felt that his own pile was the smallest, and it took quite a while for us to overcome this psychological feeling.
The food costs were announced every month. The highest, for the month with Spring Festival, was about 7 yuan ($4.67 US) per person. I remember clearly that the lowest was 4.44 yuan (about $3 US). The official price was 0.11 yuan for each catty of grain, 0.01 yuan for each catty of sweet potatoes, and 0.02 yuan for vegetables. Oil provision was 2.2 ounces per person per month; however, after being ripped off by the kitchen inmates, there was little trace of the oil by the time the food reached our hands.
As for monthly allowance, there were 4 categories: 3.5 yuan ($2.38 US) per month for those who made the top grade in labor and ideological reform; 2.5 yuan ($1.7 US) and 2 yuan ($1.36 US) for lower grades, and 1 yuan ($0.7 US) for those opposed to reform. I was graded to receive 2.5 yuan. There was nothing for me to buy to ease my hunger nor was I free to shop in the small town. Since it was a time when everyone was financially tight, I twice saved up the money to send to my mother.
Hunger drove everyone to try every possible means to find things to eat. The daring and hardened thieves risked stealing food from the natives. One time around the Dragon Boat Festival (on the 5 th day of the 5 th lunar month), someone stole more than 100 rice dumplings from the natives and ate them up. Of those who picked wild fruits to eat when they were laboring on the mountains, some had died of food poisoning. We then learned that only those fruits that birds ate were edible. A patient named Tao had heard that there was a small shop situated along the way to a hospital eight miles away, which sold snail sauce (snails preserved in very salty sauce). He then made an excuse to go to the hospital and bought 21 ounces of snail sauce for about 0.5 yuan. Being starved, he ate the sauce as he walked. Like most others, he had been sick with edema as a result of malnutrition. After eating the very salty sauce, he dropped dead1 about half-a-mile away from the shop. Yet another inmate, like the well-known "White-haired Lady"2 of ancient times, was unafraid of tigers, boars, snakes and the like; he ran away and hid himself in a far-off cave for 3 months. Everyday around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. he slipped into the kitchen after the cooks had finished making breakfast3 and stole five or six bamboo tubes of rice to bring back to the cave. Finally, some inmates who were chopping down wood for making a raft rudder noticed the smoke of the runaway's campfire and reported on him. He was arrested, shackled and locked up, and suffered miserably.
Many hungry inmates took their clothes and other personal items to the natives to exchange for food, though such acts of "associating with natives" was a breach of discipline in the Labor Camp. One inmate traded his sweater with a native for 4 pounds of roasted soybeans. Not daring to bring them back to the Camp, he ate them all up as he was walking back to the Camp. After he returned, however, he suffered great abdominal pain. Fearing disciplinary action, he dared not report it until the pain was too great for him. But then it was too late, for the soybeans had expanded and he died of burst stomach. How true these sayings are: "a hungry person is not picky or choosy of what to eat" and "hunger and desperation are torturous." Perhaps that is why "the hands of the compassionate women have cooked their own children; they became food for them in the destruction of the daughter of my people" (Lam. 4:10).
A group of women in my team were assigned to grow vegetables. There was one inmate named Renee Fu whose husband was also in our Ditch Pond Sub-Camp but in another team. Unfortunately, he had passed away and everyone around her could only secretly feel sorry for her. A person on Labor Reform was treated worse than dogs and pigs; the dead man's body was buried in the riverbank opposite the Camp instead of the usual burial site "No. 5 Trench." At the burial, no one other than the wife and several assisting laborers were present. Because of starvation, she had no time to mourn and soon married a kitchen worker in the Sub-Camp just for an additional mouthful of food! How indescribable the hidden agony must have been! Anyway, who would care about the agony of someone on Labor Reform?
At that time, I asked the Lord, "Lord! How have I arrived at such a plight?" Thank God that He is "the God of all comfort!" In my distress and despondence, He told me that "He also was numbered with transgressors." That was the first time since my reform in northern Fujian that the Lord had spoken to me. As the prophet Isaiah prophesized, Jesus was "also numbered with transgressors"(Isa. 53:12). Oh, the Holy One of God, the glorious Creator, numbered among transgressors for to save us! On Mount Calvary He was nailed on the cross between two thieves. So, does it matter whatever would befall me?
1. It is probable that the high content of sodium ion in the salty snail sauce might have worsened his edema condition with excessive water accumulation in the cells.
2. A character in a well-known movie �C A poor peasant girl who was ill-treated and raped by a landlord, she escaped and hid in a far-off mountain cave for years. Gradually her hair turned white for lack of proper food.
3. We had steamed rice as meals throughout the 4 years in Fujian. We each had our own bamboo tube into which the cooks put the rationed rice and water. The cooks woke up in the midnight to steam the rice and returned to sleep again after it was cooked, around 2-3 a.m.