LIFE IN EXILE
Like a Straw, an Inmate’s Life Was Worth Less Than Those of Dogs and Pigs
There was an inmate named Jintang Zhang whose performance during the reform was rated good and was nominated as a group-leader (10 people in one group). As I was labeled a “counter-revolutionary” not deserving trust, I had never been nominated as a group-leader. Instead, I was led and supervised by group-leaders who were gangsters1. One day I happened to be standing near Zhang, who was critically ill, and heard him ask the cadre, “Team-leader Guo, I’m dying; may I be excused from work today?” The cadre sneered, “What! Dying? Just go ahead and die! What if you die? Who’s going to feel sorry for you? We’ll care if a dog dies; but who cares if you do.” Zhang died in less than a month. Later, during the Cultural Revolution, inmates with “counter-revolutionary hats”2 who died were not provided with coffins.
At the time of the Cultural Revolution, our Camp had already moved to Anhui Province. One time, I came down with a high fever that lasted for several days. The clinical physician, Dr. Cheng, was out and only one nurse was on duty. Afraid that I was dying, she sent me to the hospital. The patient right next to my sickbed, Jeff Chen, was sent to the Labor Camp for having worked, in his youth, as a translator for the Japanese during the Sino-Japanese War. He and his wife had been divorced for some time; even so, he wrote to request her, based on previous years of spousal relationship, to be by his side before he died. This kind-hearted woman then came to the Labor Camp hospital to care for him until his death a short while later. A cadre named Jon Du, who was the chief steward of my team, dashed in and, with a stern face, told the woman, “Jeff Chen is a counter-revolutionary member and is not provided with a coffin after death.” The woman wept. For us Christians, it does not matter whether or not coffins were provided, but this woman felt differently and cried bitterly. She requested permission to use her own money to buy a coffin. The cadre turned down her request saying that coffins could not be sold to counter-revolutionary elements, as it was then the time of Cultural Revolution. Then a few people came to wrap up the corpse with an old bed-sheet and took it to the burial site on the slope behind the hospital. Though given permission to attend the burial, the woman did not do so as she could not bear the sight of such a burial.
An inmate in Team 7 of our Camp, surnamed Song, had suffered numerous denunciations and continuous self-criticisms for having criticized Jiang-Ching (wife of Chairman Mao Tse-tung). One day he committed suicide. Even then, the hatred of the authorities did not subside, and they called a meeting to denounce him, saying that he “deserved to die a thousand times.” They dressed a scarecrow in Song’s clothes and called a meeting with over 1,000 attendees. After the chairman of the meeting ordered that “Song” be brought in, three men seized the scarecrow by the collar and brought it up the stage. The denunciation then started. Some people took turns accusing how wicked “he” was. Who was to know that, shortly after this incident, Jiang-Ching and her political gang (known as The Gang of Four) fell from power, and Song had already been robbed of his life.
An inmate’s life was mentally stressful and worth less than those of dogs, pigs and cattle. On hot and sunny summer days during the farming season, we had to be engaged in the “three rushes,” which meant rushed reaping of the “early rice,” rushed planting of the “late rice” and rushed field care for the “mid-season rice.” Cows were allowed to rest and graze between 12 noon to 3 p.m.; yet we had to toil non-stop everyday until it grew all dark and mosquitoes filled the air.
1. Gangsters and hooligans were labeled as “contradictory among the people” whereas “counter-revolutionary elements” were regarded as “self-contradictory”.
2. “counter-revolutionary hat”: the word “hat” means a breach of law – completion of labor reform does not necessarily mean the taking off of “counter-revolutionary hat.”