LIFE IN EXILE
Heartbreaks and Tragedies
Some inmates" families, learning that their loved ones were starving on the verge of death, tried their best to send them food. It was then the time of the so-called "Three-year Natural Calamities" when the families themselves were going through hard times. Moreover, the Shanghai postal service did not permit the mailing of food to the countryside where it originated. Even so, loving relatives tried every means to sell their belongings in exchange for food to be mailed to the Labor Camps. There were, for instance, lotion jars filled with lard; sausages inside candle wraps. However, parcels had to be checked by cadres when they reached the Labor Camp. If food was found, not only would they be confiscated but the person concerned would be denounced for cheating the government.
There was a father, already in his 60's, who was a worker with good health. Worried that his only son in the Camp had to labor and starve, he tried hard to save up enough money to buy about 75 pounds of food and even made a long journey to personally deliver it. Things were very expensive at that time �C a regular worker's pay was only 50-60 yuan per month, and even an egg cost 0.5-0.8 yuan. Having saved up quite a sum of money for the food, he made the long, painstaking journey on rough, winding mountain paths (20 miles alone from the Camp to the nearest bus-stop). With as many as 20,000 inmates divided into many teams and stationed at several Sub-Camps far apart from each other, it took him quite a while to locate his son. By the time he arrived at his son's Sub-Camp with the food, he was told by the cadre, "Your son is sick in the hospital." It was another 13 miles of hilly paths from the Sub-Camp to the hospital. This elderly man then used all his strength to bring the heavy load to the hospital. On arrival, he was told by the doctor, "Your son died two days earlier." Just imagine how this father responded to the news! He collapsed, totally broken down in despair.
Most inmates, except for those who were elderly or with exceptionally good spousal relationships and grown-up children, were already divorced. Not wanting their wives and children suffer for their sake, most men had acceded to divorce their spouses. Very few young or middle-aged couples still stayed married. One time, an inmate's wife spent all she could afford to buy a big load of food in order to save her husband from starvation. It was just too hard for a city woman to make such a long and difficult journey with a heavy load through winding, rugged paths. She therefore paid a villager with money and food coupons1 to carry the load to the Labor Camp, herself following behind. Unfortunately, she had hired a wicked person who, seeing that she was exhausted from treading the mountain paths, quickened his steps and disappeared with the load. It was so hard for this woman to have brought the stuff with the hope to save her husband's life, and her husband had hoped in vain for her to save him. How could she have imagined ending up empty-handed before her husband! How disappointing, disturbing and miserable it was for this couple!
1. Under the system of food rationing at the time, food could only be bought with food coupons.