LIFE IN EXILE
CHAPTER 4 Labor Camp In Anhui Province (1962-1979)
Growing Our Own Pumpkins on Wasteland
In the early spring of 1962, more and more inmates had died of starvation, and the labor force that remained had declined drastically. In order to preserve some laborers for heavy duties, the leaders increased the food ration for the hard laborers with food taken from the regular ration of other inmates. To make up for the food shortage, everyone was encouraged to find his own piece of wasteland in the vicinity of our living quarters to grow pumpkins. This was how it was supposed to work: pumpkins harvested would be weighed; 30% would go to the government whereas the remaining 70% would be kept for the grower’s own consumption after being cooked by the kitchen workers. So, quite a number of inmates had their own tiny plots. For the purpose of fertilizing, they swept up ashes left over from mountain fires and, as the leaders did not allow excrement in public latrines to be used as fertilizer, they excreted on their own plots. Unfortunately, most of the pumpkins had not yet fully grown by the time we were relocated to Anhui Province, and we did not get to eat our own pumpkins.
Several forest fires broke out during our stay in the northern Fujian mountain forest. Some were caused by cigarette-ends while others by lightning. Some fires lasted for several days or even weeks. With no fire-fighting devices in such primitive forests, it had to take rainstorms for the fire to be put out. However, every time a fire was detected, we were ordered to put it out by beating the fire with a long branch. Most of us acted casually, though there were a few who took risks fighting the fire with the hope of earning early release. Inmates working against the wind could get burned, sometimes even seriously. After the fire had died down, we swept up the ashes and put them into bags for use as potassium fertilizer.