LIFE IN EXILE
CHAPTER 4 Labor Camp In Anhui Province (1962-1979)
Relocation of Labor Camp to Anhui in 1962
By 1962, of the 20,000 inmates under reform in northern Fujian, more than 11,000 had died. I watched those around me dying one after another. Parcels of their belonging were shipped to Shanghai. The burial site at Number 5 Trench was overcrowded. A fraction of survivors went to extremes by committing suicide or hiding in mountain caves. An inmate surnamed Tao managed to run away to a far-off place, Smooth Prosperity, where he boarded a train. Halfway through the ride, he got off the train1 for a meal at the train station. There, he was caught and brought back. It was easy for the Police to identify him because of his clothes, as cotton coats provided by the Labor Camp were black with white coarse lining and were uncommonly styled.
Some inmates stole fruits and vegetables from the villagers. Tomato plants were not grown in the Labor Camp, but one day tomato plants sprang up in the field. Someone had stolen and eaten the villagers’ tomatoes, and the indigested seeds in the fertilizer (excrement) had grown into plants.
There was rumor at this time that the Camp would be relocated. The information was kept secret. We heard about the relocation without knowing why or where we would move to. There was plenty of speculation. We expected to move to the Green East Labor Camp in Shanghai suburb, as we figured that the proximity of a big city might be of greater advantage to us, such as in respect of living condition, food, etc. (It was not until after we had moved to Xuan City in Anhui that we found out the reason for the relocation. It was because President Chiang Kai-shek of Taiwan announced his intention to launch a counter-attack in Mainland China, and the Communist government of China was concerned that we in Fujian, fronting Taiwan, might rise up against the government to side with Taiwan’s military.)
The kitchen workers were busy grinding rice and soybeans, roasting them day and night, preparing them as dry food for the journey. Strangely, the aroma from the preparation could be smelled almost a mile away. It reminded me of the wonder of God’s creation. A man’s sense of smell is especially sharp when he is hungry; beasts, too, have sharp sense of smell probably because they do not feed regularly and oftentimes have to go hungry for days.
When we left northern Fujian in mid-June, we brought along our basic needs. To prevent us from escape, we were not allowed to carry cash. The rest of our belongings was packed up and turned over to the workers who were the last to leave. They then gathered and escorted our belongings to the new location ( Anhui Province).
We lined up before departing and were each given two cucumbers for quenching our thirst. The cucumbers differed in size, and we all felt that our own share was the smallest. Such psychological problem was perhaps the result of years of starving. Since there was no lodging for the night during the long journey, we sat in a small, dirty and dilapidated hut throughout the night feeding mosquitoes.
We arrived at a train station the next day and boarded a freight train carrying pigs. It had no seats or windows but only several small ventilating holes. Probably because the steel wheels were defective and not completely circular, the train ride was unbearably bumpy. As I suffered from irregular heartbeats, I could not stand or sit on the floor and could only squat on tiptoe to minimize the jolting. Fortunately, our train had to yield to all other trains, and the frequent stops gave me some breaks. We finally arrived at the Shanghai station, but the train moved on again after a brief stop. Our hope of moving to the Green East Camp in Shanghai was shattered. For each meal, we each had a small bag of rice powder mixed with a little soybean powder. When the train arrived at the Wuhu terminus, the escorting team of People’s Liberation Army first alighted and, as usual, mounted their machine guns. We were then each given a ladle of gruel to quench our thirst, for it was hot.
1. A train ticket at the time was valid for 2-3 days, depending on the distance of the trip. Within the time limit, one could get off the train and board another to finish his ride.