LIFE IN EXILE
CHAPTER 4 Labor Camp In Anhui Province (1962-1979)
Once Again Building Our “Home” from Scratch
Compared to Jiangle County in northern Fujian, Wuhu was quite a different world. At the train station there were many items of food for sale, such as spiced beans, vegetable soup, buns, pancakes and deep-fried bread-sticks costing 10 cents each. They were all priced about two to three times higher than usual. Sadly, I did not have a penny on me.1 With mouth watering, I could only watch other inmates heartily feasting with the cash they did not turn in for safekeeping. An eight-cent stamp was all that I had. With that, I exchanged for eight cents in cash with which I bought 30 or more spiced beans. It dawned on me that there was a price to be paid for being a law-abiding and disciplined Christian (see I Pet. 2:13).
Later, we took several trucks from Wuhu to Lake Juntian with a group of villages about 6 miles from Xuan City. That was a hilly region with many terraced fields that were actually desolate and weedy. The field-ridges were ruined by hole-drilling eels and mudfish. Scattered all around were piles of soil which were actually tombs. What a pitiful sight! Such was the aftermath of the so-called “Three-year Natural Calamities” in Xuan City in which 130,000 people died of starvation.
The County’s Party Committee Secretary was partly to blame for the high death toll. He falsified production reports in order to earn recognition. As a result, very little food was left after paying the government its dues. Those who were labeled as “reactionary elements” were the first to die of starvation. They were the landlords and the rich peasants and their families, except for one landlord who was the only doctor of Chinese medicine left behind for saving lives. Finally, many “poor and lower-middle” peasants and most of their family members, except for one or two survivors, were also starved to death. To appease the public’s intense agitation, the Committee Secretary was executed.
Oh, just how many wronged deaths there were and how tragically the dead descended to hell! And who knows how many of them had accepted Christ? How I wish the gospel had reached them, even if it was done over the radio! Indeed, some people were saved through radio broadcasts. May the Lord bless and purify the gospel broadcasts that they will be pure and powerful. May the Lord also provide radio receivers to the poverty-stricken areas. The reception for overseas gospel broadcasts is especially good after 9 p.m.
Here, the few thatched huts remaining were in ruins and out of repair. We slept under a large rectangular piece of green canvas supported by bamboo poles in the middle. We dug a ditch around the canvas, spread straw on the ground and put our mats on top. We later found centipedes and snakes under our mats. Thus, once again, we started to build our “homes in exile” from scratch.
There was a kind of white, long-legged bird that often strolled along the field-ridges. They cried like babies with the depressing sound “Ku-ah! Ku-ah!” (resembling “hardship! hardship!” in Chinese). We could not help feeling sad and despaired as we perceived ourselves sharing the same fate as Suwu (100 B.C.) who was exiled to the North Sea (now Lake Baikal) and tended sheep there for 19 years.
Our baggage arrived about half a month later, with many of the neatly wrapped ones missing. Thank God that mine was there, probably because it was casually wrapped with a worn-out blanket - not a deliberate act of mine. It was the Lord who had helped safeguard those worn-out things that I could not afford to lose.
Once the dust had settled, a new round of reform began. Wei, Secretary of Party Committee for the Reform Camp, announced the long-term planning for the next 18 years. The 18-year plan entailed, besides increased grain productivity, the planting of tung-trees, fruit trees, tea groves and tea-oil trees as well as the building of factories and roads, etc. In the four years of reform in northern Fujian, more than half of those on Labor Reform had died; just how many more of us had to die in another 18 years! Many of us were outraged but had to hold our tongues. Occasionally in the lavatory, when no third person was around, I was told, “Yu, we’ll be reformed for the rest of our lives - until we die! … 18 years!”
There was no grain when we first came, and life here in Lake Juntian was hard. We fed on biscuits from Shanghai made of “Number Four Flour” (ingredients unknown) which were as hard as tiles, as well as dried vetch (a kind of edible grass) sent from the Shanghai Green East Labor Camp. Noting the quality of our food, the villagers exclaimed, “A pack of hungry wolves have come from Shanghai! The time has come for us to make money!” Before we knew, a small market was set up on a piece of flat land halfway up a hill 1.5 miles from our Camp. It was named the “Merry Wood.” Food items for sale were barley cakes, ham, cooked sweet potatoes, and even noodles and dumplings. Those who had money could find excuses to go or simply sneaked out. One could also take advantage of the half-day for laundry on Sundays to go there. As my money for safekeeping by the cadres had not yet been returned to me, I had no money to spend. However, I decided to go for a look and to share the gaiety and fun. That day I brought along a lady’s handkerchief that was used as a parcel wrap and exchanged it for a barley cake from a woman. The trip to the market was worth the while, after all.
The above was an account of events during the first several months of the relocation to Anhui in 1962.
1. As a measure to prevent escapes, the carrying of cash by inmates was prohibited.