LIFE IN EXILE
Making the Horse Race Without Letting It Graze
Since many people had died of starvation, the chief cadre called on us to "demand food from the mountains." In the mountains of northern Fujian, there was a tuber plant, called 'stone pork-liver," that grew on the part of the mountain hidden from sunshine. It had leaves shaped like fern and a root that was greenish, massive, bitter and shaped like several pork-livers stuck together. After it was washed and cooked, it was smashed with a wooden hammer and rinsed in water to wash away some of the bitterness. It was then mixed with a little flour and baked into 'stone pork-liver cakes." Not everyone could have a share of the "cakes" though, as they were only meant for those engaged in extra-hard labor. We later learned from some traditional Chinese doctors that this plant was actually not everyone's food and could cause miscarriages in pregnant women. Another plant used as food was the Chinese banana. Its roots were dug out and also made into cakes. Though not as bitter as the 'stone pork-liver" cakes, they were as coarse as wheat bran or chaff. In addition to these, there were wild greens such as felon herbs, wild spinach and the like, which some of us were ordered to pick.
One time, as never before, the authorities allocated to our sub-team a fat piglet weighing about 85 pounds and instructed us to "wait till the Spring Festival to slaughter it, and treat yourself to a lavish meal." When the Spring Festival did arrive six months later, the pig's weight dropped to just 65 pounds. After it was slaughtered, we each received a slice of pork that was too tough to be chewed. Why did the fat piglet grow to be so skinny? That was because the pig-feeders had stealthily eaten the small portions of feed. In order to save the poor piglet from dying of starvation, they figured out an "advanced formula" by mixing cooked human waste with weeds as the pig's feed.
Even in such stressful living conditions, labor was hard and strenuous. For a time, we had to go without breakfast every morning to a slope 2 miles off to carry back on the shoulders logs weighing no less than 65 pounds. There were many logs lying around in this mountain forest, probably left behind by natives who sawed and chopped down the trees. Yet, it was not easy to find logs weighing around 65 pounds each. That was because the young men, being stronger and able to walk faster, arrived there earlier, had chosen the logs and carried them away. As for the heavier logs, one could hardly lift it up to the shoulder for carrying. After bringing back the logs, all that we had for breakfast was just a bowl of porridge with 2.2 ounces of rice. Right after breakfast, we had to leave for work again. Moreover, on nights with full moon, we had to work extra hours, a practice known as "night battle with a hanging lantern." On special days such as the National Day, we had to increase our production as a "tribute" to the nation. With such a beastly lifestyle of over-exertion and torturous labor, my body weight (for my height of 5 feet 10 inches) dropped to only 100 pounds.