The Twisting Dragon
This is not a history book, but a novel, and a historical novel only in the sense that it is a mixture of fiction and historical reality; and partly autobiographical. After all that has been published about Mao Zedong’s China, its author attempts to give his own vision of Mao’s years of decline.
How could it happen that after the initial good beginning the Chinese leader caused one disaster after another? Why did the Chinese people not only patiently suffer these catastrophes but actually collaborate massively?
These and many other questions will be asked by anyone who studies this period. The answers are not easy to find, but they are in part contained in China’s history.
In 1962 in Peking, when China was only just recovering from the terrible famine which was the result of Mao’s insane ‘Great Leap Forward’, I happened to be able — and this was a rare opportunity — to speak privately with the Prime Minister Mr. Zhou Enlai at a reception, when his interpreter was absent for a short while.
I complimented him on the fact that his party and government had succeeded in unifying the whole of his country, whereupon he asked with a deep sigh:
“But do you realize what tremendous problems and risks that entails? If we here in the centre take the right decision, in the economic field for example, its result is multiplied by 600 million. If, however, we make a mistake, our failure will also be multiplied by 600 million.” (The multiplication factor has now reached 1,2 billion!)
It was clear what he was hinting at: Mao Zedong’s fatal ‘Great Leap’. I tried to draw him out further:
“Does that imply that even a government which unifies a great country, could fall again?”
“You are thinking of Qin Shihhuangdi?”, and when I nodded, he said with a weary smile:
“We are different, of course, but we have indeed very serious, similar problems.” Zhou had referred to the first emperor and unifier of China, whose huge underground terra-cotta armies have astounded the world.
This short exchange and the many references in China to that first emperor, with whom Mao also compared himself half- mockingly, led me to describe the later years of Mao Zedong especially from that perspective. I am aware that comparisons in themselves can be quite meaningless; yet they can sometimes make one distinguish things more sharply. In China’s long history there have been other megalomaniac, cruel emperors, but the parallels with the Qin emperor are the most striking. There is also a marked similarity with the philosophical ideas of the School of Law of the 3rd century B.C. which have influenced both Qin Shihhuangdi and Mao Zedong.
I knelt before the bed on which his old lifeless body lay, covered with bluish bruises and festering wounds, and clad in a threadbare torn jacket and trousers.
My beloved father dead, gone forever. I could hardly believe it. My whole being rebelled against a political system which could cause such an outrage. The delicately shaped hands were now mere stumps as a result of hard work and frost. Never more would they write poems and calligraphy on silk or rice-paper.
I should have known, of course, that in his weak physical condition he would not have much chance of survival in that barren labour-camp in the far interior of China. But Father’s personality was so powerful and he possessed such remarkable strength of mind that I had unwittingly considered him practically immortal.
What had those villains done to him, to that great scholar who was widely admired and loved? The ignorant fanatics had of course never even heard of Professor Sun Hanxun. A man of modern ideas and ideals, who had devoted himself to the building of a new China under communist leadership, such a man had been branded a ‘filthy, rightist element’, humiliated and driven to death.
When I had come back to Peking that morning from a service trip on which, as a junior secretary to Zhou Enlai, I had accompanied the Prime Minister, I had found to my dismay a note from our doctor which said that Father had returned home from his camp the day before. He had been completely exhausted and had died that same evening.
It was a bitter coincidence that on the very night when my father lay dying, I had attended a festive banquet with some high-ranking army officers. All of us had given the obligatory toast to Chairman Mao Zedong — my father’s murderer! — a toast as inevitable as the plaster bust of the Great Helmsman which stood here, as in most other houses, on a high table.
That ubiquitous object was nearly the only thing that had been left in the house which had been stripped by the plunderers. The antique furniture and all the objects of art had long ago, in the name of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, been removed, stolen or smashed to pieces by the Red Guards. They had burned Professor Sun’s extensive library, only leaving Mao’s writings intact. In this empty room Father lay on a bare wooden bed, wearing a peaceful expression, fortunately, on his tortured face. I looked in the pocket of his jacket and found a piece of paper which I spread out and read. Though written with an ordinary ballpoint and some of the characters slightly blotched, they were unmistakably my father’s distinctive, beautiful handwriting:
My dear Baozheng, I wanted to surprise you and Baomei (so he did not know that May had been imprisoned!) with the news that I have been released, but it is too late, my end is approaching. I send you my best wishes. Do not worry about me, my soul will find peace. My only hope is that this terrible nightmare may not last much longer and that our people may be free again. Your loving father.
Underneath, in five shaky characters , a curious note had been added: Mao zhuxi li-tou! (In Chairman Mao!)
I was moved by my father’s letter which I read and reread. But what did this mysterious post-scriptum mean? In, within Chairman Mao? Had the last words been reversed, tou-li in stead of li-tou, it would have meant “In Mao’s head”, but that was not the case. The plaster bust of Mao Zedong caught my eye again. I picked it up without thinking and when on a sudden impulse I shook it, a kind of exercise-book and some loose leaves fell out. I opened the note-book: it was my father’s Diary! But first I read those loose leaves, and I was appalled:
After numerous atrocious humiliations we are now subjected to forced labour, exploitation, slavery. The Chinese Communist Party calls this ‘reform through labour’. Ignorant, arrogant party officials or young ‘revolutionary rebels’ determine who shall be ‘reformed’ and how. In any case all intellectuals, for Mao Zedong considers us as ‘class enemies’. During lengthy interrogations we have been kicked and beaten. I am covered with wounds that open frequently, and my left arm which has been partly paralyzed since birth causes me great pain.
And then the worst happened. We were ordered to dig an irrigation canal in the stony frozen earth. It was unbearably hard work, on a nearly empty stomach. With each passing day I got weaker, my strength gave way, I could not think clearly anymore and became drowsy, my head swam. The wind blew the loose sand into my face, the hole under my feet was gradually getting bigger and deeper, while I went on digging, digging, digging, until I fell. Hadn’t I experienced this before?
In that moment, all of a sudden, the whole scene of old flashed before my eyes, as a landscape illuminated by lightning, and I saw every detail crystal-clear.
There we stand, my dear old friend Hongxu and I, together with hundreds of other Confucian scholars, all of them sentenced to death by the First Divine Emperor of Qin.
I find myself back in the third century B.C. and am going through it all once again.
An ice-cold wind blows over the yellow earth, and the fine sharp sand stings my eyes. Nearly blind, I have had to undress completely and to lay my clothes neatly folded on a large pile so that they may still bring the state some gain. Efficiency is Emperor Qin Shihhuangdi’s watchword, and waste is in his eyes a mortal sin.
Shivering with cold I have taken up the heavy spade, but when a soldier strikes me a blow in order to make me work faster, I fly into a blind passion and strike the brute’s leg hard with my spade. With a cry of pain and rage he brings down his sword on my left shoulder. It is inflamed with pain and my arm is almost paralyzed but I make no sound.
I am digging, deep, deeper, and fall down. The guards flog me, and with great difficulty, aided by Hongxu, I get up again. But… if I shall presently be buried in that grave anyway, then why not die now and save myself that ghastly experience? It is only a passing thought, for blows and abuse soon force me back to work. I am hardly able to think clearly and go on toiling automatically. When I stumble and fall again, like so many others around me, a cart drives up from which, to our amazement, a bowl of hot millet porridge is handed us. Are they feeling pity for us? Pity? Ha, what a stupid, Confucian notion, the Qin leaders would say! No, it soon becomes clear that they are moved solely by their well-known love of efficiency, by their concern that we should succumb before we have finished digging our own mass-grave.
It all happened two thousand years ago. I have been struck before by other memories, other similarities, as when children were shouting war-cries or books were burned, but this recollection is so vivid that I relive it all now. I clearly hear the shouted commands, I see the uniforms in every detail, the different hair-styles and the cruel hard faces of the tall soldiers, some of them in their iron coats of mail. And the imposing officers with their russet and brown leather caps, their deadly lances and bronze javelins. These people of Qin come from the frontier region, barbarian blood runs in their veins, they speak our language but make it sound harsh and strident. Their organization is perfect. The brute soldiers who have brought us to this lonely spot far from the capital Xienyang, beat us only just enough to keep every one working. If only we go on digging vigorously, we are told, we shall be able to bear the cold. Everything has been thought out and calculated with a view of obtaining the maximum result.
Is it surprising? How else could the king of the small state of Qin have conquered and unified all the other Chinese principalities, and have proclaimed himself the First Divine Emperor, if the people of Qin had not been much better organized, more docile, more disciplined and militant than their neighbours?
An inexpressible weariness has come over me, and I am unable to think. While I stand here digging in this deep trench, a heap of earth and sand to my horror descends upon me, and I hear the loud command: “Bury them!”
But suddenly I do not want to die yet.
“Help me, Hongxu, pull me up!” I call out, but he cannot reach me. I am falling, the earth caves in, a terror grips me, the heavy mud-load weighs down on my eyes, penetrates my nose and mouth, I cannot breathe, and I hear the strangled cries and sobs of hundreds of victims, while the earth falls down on us and buries us alive.
To experience once again, now, in Mao Zedong’s China, what befell me so long ago, is worse than all the other tortures I have endured. This bad dream is recurring all the time. I am writing it all down, hoping thus to banish the nightmare, although I fear it will be in vain. The ultimate humiliation that awaits me here — to die in slavery — is not far off, I sense it clearly.
* * * *
With trembling hands I put down my father’s papers. What a gruesome way to end one’s life!
It was common knowledge that in the third century B.C. the Qin Emperor had ordered more than four hundred scholars to be buried alive. How many more scholars and other intellectuals, I wondered, had in this twentieth century been driven to death by that megalomaniac monster, the new Emperor, Mao Zedong?
My father knew the history of the Qin dynasty better than anyone else. Whenever he was telling us about it, he would describe the events of that time so expressively and in such detail that he seemed to have witnessed them personally. On one such occasion, when my sister May and I were sitting with him in his study, he had let fall casually, with that mysterious half-serious, half-ironical smile of his, that he must be the reincarnation of a scholar of that period.
May had blurted out:
“But imagine, that was two thousand years ago! You can’t be serious, Father. You do not really believe in reincarnation, do you?”
However, Professor Sun had not answered, only shrugged his shoulders. When we had left, May walked part of the way with me. “Do you think Father really meant that, Paul? That would be sheer superstition, wouldn’t it?”
“Perhaps you’re right, but we don’t know. Of course, Father possesses a writer’s imagination and he’s studied the history of the Qin for many years. Possibly he has identified himself with it and now believes in this reincarnation. In any case I think that he did mean it. I myself honestly don’t know whether these phenomena exist, but there are moments when I’m strongly inclined to believe that they do.”
This was such a moment. I now had the awesome feeling that father had indeed twice experienced this misery. How could China have sunk so low, why were our family and many others struck by one calamity after another? Father dead, my sister May imprisoned, partly on account of her son’s American father, and that son, an active Red Guard, now also locked up in a labour camp.
We had nurtured such high hopes and expectations when my father and I had stood in 1949 — nearly twenty years ago! — on the Square of Heavenly Peace and heard Mao Zedong proclaim the People’s Republic of China. Already before Liberation we had become convinced that the only chance of saving our country lay in a communist victory.
My American friend Larry had vigorously contested this view. With hindsight I must now admit that for the greater part he had been right, although I recognize that a number of important changes have been achieved which fortunately cannot be undone. In any case, we Chinese had no choice then, neither had Larry and his powerful United States. He had to leave China at the end of 1948 before the communist take-over, and no diplomatic relations were established between our two countries.
It was an exciting moment when in May 1947 I boarded the plane which would take me from New-York to Shanghai, from where after a short stopover I would fly on to Peking. I would be back in a country which I had left as a child. Before the war my father had for many years been an American missionary in the interior, in the province of Sichuan, and my childhood there had been very happy.
When I had graduated from Columbia University in political science, I had, in addition, followed a course in Chinese; the language and country still interested me. Not that I was a bookish type. I loved games, was a star batter on Columbia’s baseball team, played a lot of tennis, and enjoyed the many parties that were always organized. I had little interest in profound soul-searching problems.
My father, a serious and deeply religious man, was of opinion that I liked the easy life too much, that I was too superficial. So when the State Department sent me to Peking as a language student, later to join the Foreign Service, he remarked mockingly: “Yes, of course, you are so fond of parties and balls. A diplomatic life may be just right for you.” But when I left for China, he gave me a lot of sound advice. It was easy to see how much he would have loved to see the old country again himself.
“Don’t forget, Larry Curtis,” he finally said in a quasi-solemn tone, “always behave yourself with dignity, so they will have respect for Americans over there!”
From Shanghai I soon flew on to Peking. The trip lasted more than six hours, including short stops in Tsingtao, Tsinan and Tientsin. An immense grey landscape dotted here and there with villages and clusters of trees. At last we approached Peking, flying low, so I could see the city well through my window. It was a bright, sunny spring day, and I clearly distinguished the azure Temple of Heaven, the golden roofs of the Forbidden City, the North Lake (Bei Hai) with its large white Tibetan-type dagoba, and in the distance the blue haze of the western hills. Everywhere between the grey houses one saw the fresh green of trees and parks. I was flying on a magic carpet over a city from a thousand and one nights.
“Are you Mr. Curtis?” a young bespectacled Chinese asked me. His name was Li, and he was a clerk at the American Consulate-General, who took me to the College of Chinese Studies where I was temporarily housed. The American missionaries who were in charge of this institution were extremely nice, but I did not stay there long, since I wanted to be free. I was lucky: within two weeks I succeeded in renting for a small fee a Chinese-style pavilion in an old quiet compound.
It was an enchanting spot, and each day I was reluctant to leave it, when I cycled to the Language School. But there I also soon felt at home. Most of my fellow students were married and some had children, but I got along with all of them without exception. There were some elderly Chinese teachers and one young one, my age, who worked there part-time and soon became a good friend.
Paul Sun’s face was oval and sensitive, he was of a serious nature but exuded great charm when his eyes twinkled and dimples appeared in his cheeks. The few lessons he gave at the American Language School earned him more than his salary as a minor official at the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the city of Peking (then called Peip’ing).
With Paul (his Chinese name was Sun Baozheng) and other friends I played tennis frequently; together we explored the city and its picturesque environs; we dined out together, and in this way came to know and value each other. Paul taught me a great deal about China.
The restaurant where he had invited me to celebrate his promotion to a higher, but still very modest rank, was famous for its Peking duck. Though Paul belonged to a traditional Chinese family of scholars and officials, he was sufficiently modern not to give the usual stag dinner: his wife Fang-lin, sweet and smiling, was our hostess. There were two other couples (my colleague Doug Freeman and a Dutch friend Carl Barkman with their wives) as well as Paul’s pretty sister Baomei whom I had not met before and who would be sitting next to me at dinner. She intrigued me right away, perhaps because she combined some of the traditional modesty with a resolute attitude and an openness which were not often to be found in a young woman here.
Doug remarked teasingly: “So Miss Sun Baomei will be Mrs. Curtis tonight.” She blushed but looked straight at me with a hint of mockery in her expressive almond-shaped eyes: “I do not believe that you would choose a wife for just one evening.” Now I felt that I also was colouring: “I would not dare, though the thought is tempting!”
Four sizeable ducks were shown at our table. Though only partially roasted as yet, their skin gleamed as golden, honey-coloured lacquer. Later, the birds we had chosen were brought sizzling from the spit to our table, and the skin was cut in wafer-thin slices. One dipped these crispy slices in a reddish-black sauce and wrapped them, with spring-onions, in a thin crepe. They were delicious. Sitting between the hostess and Baomei, I tried to divide my attention equally between them; that should not have been difficult, for a round Chinese table created immediately a certain intimacy and facilitated the conversation with the other diners. Yet I was soon engaged in such a lively discussion with my friend’s charming sister that I somewhat disregarded such social conventions.
She was not only witty, but she had large luminous eyes that sparkled with merriment, a full finely shaped mouth and long glossy hair. The resoluteness of her chin was also attractive. Her English was reasonably good but she wanted me to speak Chinese with her. I was a language student, wasn’t I? She laughed at the Sichuan accent which I had never completely shed, but in such a way that it made me laugh too. I decided to call her May, and she accepted that. Her ‘Larry’ sounded more like La Li, Lai Li or Lao Li, and this made us write all those Chinese characters on the paper table-cloth. It gave me great pleasure to discover that she, too, loved to talk nonsense. When we were weak with laughter about some funny trifle, I had trouble explaining it to the hostess who asked me what is was about. I started rather incoherently, but Fang-lin interrupted smilingly: “Oh, but that is Baomei all over! Completely mad, but a perfect darling.”
What a good time I am having here, I often thought. As a student of the Chinese language, living in this fascinating old imperial city, I have everything I could wish for. I have never thought seriously about myself and my future. I never did care much. I am fatalistic by nature, and perhaps that is why I just wait for whatever happens to me. My father once said that I was intelligent and possessed an inquiring mind, but unfortunately did not make sufficient use of it. I did not seem to have a head for study. He was quite right. Yet my fascination with China, country of my youth, filled with familiar memories, but in an atmosphere at once more invigorating, exciting and exotic, I am stimulated to learn the extremely difficult Chinese script.
But I have always needed physical exercise more than books; I happen to be tall, supple and loosely built. Here one can practise all sorts of sport. Nor are outings and entertainment lacking: I am frequently invited to picnics, dinners and dances in the foreign community.
Before I got to know May I had not met any Chinese girl whom I understood and liked. With her I immediately felt at ease. Every time I saw Paul, I asked about his sister, until one day he remarked teasingly: “You don’t much care for afternoon teas, do you? But if you’d come today, May will be there.” On that occasion I also met their parents who were very nice to me.
From that day onwards I often went out with Paul and his sister, and soon I was dating May by herself, taking her out to dinner or a movie. Her parents did not object. May’s father looked exactly the way I pictured a wise, Confucian scholar: a narrow face with a small beard, softly smiling eyes and the delicate hands of a calligrapher. Soon I discovered, however, that Professor Sun Hanxun was not given to old-fashioned ideas at all, his were rather modern and progressive. We got along very well. To my great joy I found that May liked my company. She started giving me lessons in Chinese conversation and literature so we could see more of each other. May was a talented girl: intelligent and a good musician. In fact, she played the violin wonderfully well.
When I came to know her better, I discovered how proud she was to be Chinese, and at the same time how desperately she longed for an independent and ‘modern’ existence. She had studied the history of art and worked on the editorial staff of a newspaper, where she earned very little. Sometimes a remark escaped her from which I deduced an inner tension between her Chinese and her ‘western’ nature.
One day she said heatedly: “Ours may be the oldest and highest developed civilization, but the women in my country have always been and still are oppressed. That should be changed soon, we don’t accept this any more.” I made a poor joke, saying that I preferred an ‘oppressed’, docile Chinese girl to an emancipated American one, but that rubbed her the wrong way. Her eyes blazed. I had better find such a girl, she snapped at me, and left. I went after her, but had the greatest trouble making amends. Her pride showed also in minor matters such as when I wanted to pay the bill and she insisted on contributing her share.
Later I broached this subject of the position of women with May’s father. Professor Sun agreed that in China women had less rights than men, certainly in the public sphere, but he also pointed out that the situation was more complex. Within the family, a wife (neiren, the person within) or, if she had one, her mother-in-law reigned supreme, whereas the husband’s duties, apart from begetting children, lay in the outside world.
“It is sometimes said,” I remarked, “that individual human rights such as exist in the West have no place in Chinese culture, where preference is given to collective rights. Is that correct?”
“No, I do not think so. Certainly the Confucians thought differently. If only from the writings of Mengzi (Mencius) and Master Xun it can be seen that they greatly respected individual human dignity. But Xunzi did not believe it could be protected by laws. For these Confucian thinkers, rather than relying on laws, stressed the importance of developing man into a moral being.”
Despite years of war, Japanese occupation and civil strife, Peking with its shabby, neglected temples and palaces had still preserved an archaic beauty and grandeur. Paul accompanied me on my first visit to the ‘Forbidden City’ which I had admired so much from the air. From afar you can see the golden arched roofs of the imperial palaces glitter in the sunshine. The sun shines here most of the time, Peking is known for its hard blue skies. The Forbidden City forms a large rectangle right in the centre of the city; the inner wall alone is half an hour’s walk long, and the shorter side of the rectangle more than two kilometres. It is an imposing complex of palaces, gardens and wide open spaces with steps of blindingly white marble, and it is separated from the rest of Peking by a moat and thick, pink and purple walls with watch-towers on the corners. For hours we walked around, and I was profoundly impressed by the cool, grand tranquillity of this enclave in the bustle of the crowded city. We climbed ‘Coal Hill’ to the north of the Forbidden City, where we had a lovely view of all the palaces. A little to the west of here lay the North Lake (Beihai), its dominant white shrine in Tibetan style emerging from the greenery. Together with the Middle and South Lakes (Zhongnanhai) it forms a grandiose range of pleasure-gardens. The marble bridge which separates the North from the Middle Lake also offered us an unforgettable view of the lakes which were filled with violet lotus flowers, and of the temples and pavilions.
“Now I understand,” I said to Paul, “why the Guomindang has made Nanjing (Southern Capital) its capital, and why Peking (Northern Capital) was renamed Peip’ing (Northern Peace). Here, in this old capital of the Empire, reigns a perfect harmony and beauty which cannot possibly be improved upon. So why revolution? Could this little Dr. Sun Yat-sen from Canton in the far south or could a Chiang Kai-shek ever equal the greatness of a Kangxi or Qianlong? Certainly not here, in this city which still breathes the glorious past, where the Son of Heaven lived and reigned.”
“Yes, in a way you’re right. The Guomindang leaders have undoubtedly felt that way about it. And there’s another thorn in their side, which will by the way soon be removed: it is the special status of the foreign Legation Quarter. Last but not least, there is the military-strategic factor: don’t forget the communists now dominate a large part of the North and Northeast. But you do perhaps idealize this ‘perfect’ Peking too much, Larry. There’s really quite a lot susceptible of improvement, as you’ll notice in due time; and who knows whether a revolution will not be needed after all.”
The inhabitants of this beautiful city have indeed passed through very difficult years and are still in dire straits. But they were holding up their heads, and I admired their resilience, dignity, and even cheerful, almost carefree attitude. However, even those who were still well off seemed to be aware that these were the last days of good old Peking and that they would never come back. Under their apparent lack of concern a gnawing uncertainty lay hidden, a continuous fear and tension about what might happen.
Professor Sun Hanxun and his wife were always very hospitable. He was an interesting man, who wrote poems and short stories, but whose greatest hobby was the ancient history of China and the philosophers of that time, about which he could relate endless tales.
I had read some parts of the works by Confucius and Mencius, but Professor Sun now drew my attention to a specialty of his: the ideas of the Law School (fa-jia), by which China’s first unifier, Qin Shihuangdi (First Divine Emperor of Qin), had been greatly influenced. He was a fascinating figure, whose reign of only eleven years was one of the bloodiest in Chinese history, who killed hundreds of thousands, ordered immense buildings such as his huge tomb, many palaces and the Great Wall of China, to be constructed by slave-labour, caused archives and libraries to go up in flames, and had hundreds of scholars buried alive, but who also abolished the feudal ‘family-states’ and for the first time created a centrally governed empire which would continue to exist, in more or less the same form, for two thousand years.
One afternoon we were sitting again, the three of us, in Professor Sun’s tastefully appointed but extremely cold study: the Professor himself, Paul and I. For this occasion I had put on my warmest clothes for I had caught a bad cold here before. The old servant, Lao Zhang, a tall figure in a long dark-blue gown and felt slipper-shoes, noiselessly entered with tea and poured it for us. Looking at Paul’s father, I thought he belonged to a race which would soon die out: such courtly manners, radiating so much knowledge and wisdom, such subtle humour.
“As you will know,” Professor Sun started his lecture, “the philosopher Mencius assumed that human nature was good. Master Xun (Xunzi), on the contrary, was of the opinion that it was bad, but that man with his free will was in a position to acquire the good through education. This theory suited entirely the static world of Confucianism. In the feudal state everyone knew his place; every prince, vassal and knight behaved in accordance with the precepts of his status, thus ensuring order and prosperity.
“But that world changed,” Professor Sun explained. “During the struggle for hegemony, territories were conquered where the old feudal notions could not be applied. Only by severe government could they be disciplined and kept under control. Thus the need for laws arose. It was in this period that the ideas of the Law School originated such as we find in the writings of Lord Shang and Master Han Fei. They differed greatly from those of their predecessors.”
“Weren’t they the extremely severe, inhumane philosophers who negated the existence of any goodness in man?” asked Paul.
“Yes, that is how one could describe it,” his father agreed. “According to those thinkers human nature is bad and incapable of improvement by education. Public order can only be maintained by a system of very severe punishments and rewards. One should punish often and rarely offer rewards: one reward in nine punishments! The absolute power must be concentrated in the hands of the prince. The people must never obtain any power at all.”
“I thought that throughout its history the Chinese people had never possessed any power, whether under Confucian rule or not,” I remarked hesitantly.
“Well, the Legalists go much further in that respect,” Professor Sun answered. “They teach that the state must be made rich and strong, the people on the contrary poor and weak, devoting themselves exclusively to agriculture and military service. Should peasants all the same be able to enrich themselves, then they must be made poor through punishment and taxes. If this is not done, they risk becoming interested in dangerous subjects such as education and culture which can only induce dissolution and disobedience. If the people remain poor and ignorant, the prince will find it easy to govern them.
“As you can see,” Professor Sun concluded, “an inhumane autocracy, severe laws and unlimited contempt for the people who constituted nothing but an instrument to provide riches and power for the ruler. The people’s brain, it was said, must be like blank paper on which the ruler could write whatever he thought fit.”
“Haven’t I read something like that in the Dao De Jing?” Paul asked. “Was the Qin Emperor also influenced by the Daoists?”
“That is correct. Although their tenets ran contrary to those of the Law School, the Legalists deemed some of the Daoist theories useful. Wait, I shall look up in the Dao De Jing the passage which you are probably referring to.
“Here it is:
‘… the Wise Man rules the people by emptying their brain, filling their stomach, weakening their will, and strengthening their muscles, so that they will have no knowledge and no desire.’ Is that what you meant, Paul?”
“That must be it. A striking resemblance with what Lord Shang asserted. Only I do not quite follow why the people, with a full stomach and strong muscles, should not have any desire — sexual, for example. Quite the contrary, I would say.”
“Not one of your most brilliant observations, Baozheng. All this is about politics, don’t you see? With a full stomach, a weak will and an empty brain, the people will not be much inclined to rise in revolt and make a bid for power. Their sexual activities will not worry the Emperor; he will even welcome an increase of the population as a means to obtain more power.
“No wonder,” Professor Sun added, “that such cynical ideas and methods could not be maintained for long, and that the Han dynasty already returned to the teachings of Confucius.”
What the Professor told us, came as a surprise for me:
“I knew, of course, that in the old days China was not always governed in accordance with democratic principles,” I remarked. “But what is quite new to me, is the fact that your country for some time had been subjected to such a fully reasoned totalitarian system.”
May entered the room and asked: “May I join you, Father, or is this strictly for men only?”
Her father gave her a kindly nod: “Women will in this time and age have to know more about history and politics. Come and sit with us.”
“Well,” said Paul, “men also know far too little about these things. A great deal of what you told us about the Qin dynasty is completely new to me.”
Professor Sun smiled: “Yes, it is true that this period has not been given sufficient attention in our historiography — and only in a negative sense. It was indeed a very harsh and merciless regime but objectivity demands that we see the ideas and events of that time in their historical context, in part as a reaction to an obsolete system, nepotism and corruption. We ought also to pay attention to the positive aspects: the construction of roads and canals, the abolition of feudal arbitrariness, the administrative division of the empire, the development of an examination system as a gateway to officialdom, the unification of writing, currency, weights and measures.” I enjoyed these talks which taught me more than the official lectures I attended at the university. From discussions about the actual political situation in China I gathered that Professor Sun was what we would call a ‘liberal’, or perhaps what in Western Europe would be considered a social-democrat. What he really thought of communism, I had no idea; the subject seemed too delicate to touch upon.
Even with May, strangely enough, I never discussed it. We got together ever more frequently and the subjects for conversation were never lacking, for there was so much we wanted to tell each other about our respective countries. I also loved to hear her play the violin.
One evening May had come home with me after seeing a play, and we sat in front of the fire-place enjoying a glass of wine. Her beautiful eyes were shining bright in the light of the flames, and when I kissed her, her lips and cheeks were the softest I had ever touched. It felt as if something snapped inside me when she gave herself completely. Only later, when we lay quiet, replete with happiness, did we hear the sharp scratching sound of the gramophone-needle: Brahms’s violin-concerto had ended, and I got up to switch off the record-player.
Later we again reached heights of rapture, but never the dazzling summit of that first ‘Everest’. And even now that we have come to know each other intimately, I am never quite sure whether her free sexual behaviour is not partly a defiant demonstration of the independence and ‘modern’ way of life she so ardently desires.
It was a glorious autumn, the loveliest time of the year. The air was clear and sparkling like champagne. We still enjoyed picnics and walks near the Summer Palace, in the ‘Fragrant Hills’, or on the remnants of the old, weathered town-walls of Peking, from where you occasionally spied a caravan of heavily-laden camels coming all the way from Mongolia.
When the inflation soared to unprecedented levels, life for the Chinese people, with the exception of those who possessed US-dollars or gold, became increasingly difficult. My dollars only rose in value, so it did not bother me personally. In my notes of that time I see that in November 1947 I bought a thick, warm sheepskin as a lining for my raincoat for the sum of 2 million Chinese dollars (yuan) which was the equivalent of some twenty American dollars. And while one US-dollar equalled around 90,000 yuan then, in August of 1948 it was worth 13,500,000 yuan! I knew that Paul and his wife, and also May and their parents, were now living in desperate straits. The salaries of professors and officials had in any case been ridiculously low, and now their value dropped every day. There was widespread corruption in the government, the army and the business-community.
On an afternoon in September 1948 Paul and I were sitting on a bench, resting after a long walk. We had to ward off some beggars, one of whom had lost both legs. A skeleton of a coolie in rags passed by, carrying a shoulder-pole with two buckets of precious human excrement. Everything around us then seemed hopelessly needy and disconsolate. Yet it came as a shock to me when my friend gravely remarked: “You know, Larry, nearly all our young people, and even many older ones, would not mind at all if the communists came to power, although we have no idea how things would turn out for us. The Guomindang has failed miserably, and even you Americans are beginning to see that. So it looks as if there is no other alternative for China to emerge from this moral and economic morass.”
I objected forcefully and pointed out that communism could not offer an economic solution, that it suppressed freedom, and that it was wholly unsuitable for China, if only because of the strong regional and family ties in this country.
Paul drew nervously on his cigarette and it took a while before he answered. How very much he resembles May, I thought, but how different his nature: more serious and thoughtful, as well as less resolute. Both have their father’s refined, oval face; Paul occasionally a very slight nervous twitch under his right eye.
“There is a great deal of truth in what you are saying,” Paul said finally, “but you are privileged in that you can look on things objectively, from a distance. You are forgetting that we have never known the sort of freedom that you are talking about. What does ‘freedom’ mean to people who have nothing to eat?”
In the meantime the civil war, which had seemed so far away, came nearer. Often I was awakened before dawn when military aircraft roared through the air on their way to an unknown destination, when the reveille was sounded in a nearby barracks and soldiers were singing military songs. Soon after the day began with the more familiar, typical Peking sounds: the flute-carrying pigeons and the shouts of the hawkers.
The newspapers reported that the communist armies were advancing; they had occupied large parts of the countryside in the north-east and elsewhere, and now one town after another fell into their hands.
It was on a day in early November 1948, when I sat bent over my Chinese books, that I was startled by a loud rap on my door-knocker. A messenger from the American Consulate-General handed me an envelope. I tore it open and was alarmed when I read the circular. In view of the worsening military situation Americans were urged to “consider the desirability of evacuation at this time while normal transportation facilities are still available.”
It was clear to me, of course, that in my case there was no question of “considering evacuation”; as a language student under a contract with the State Department I would have to leave, whether I liked it or not. So this would be the end of my good life here. And my relationship with May? Would that also be ended? Would she want to marry me, and did I want it myself? I suddenly realized that I had never given that any thought; perhaps she hadn’t either.
In any case, unlike what an American girl would have done in her place, she had never even hinted at marriage. Apparently she did not aspire to a lifelong bond with me, and that made everything so much easier. She was a marvellous companion and it would be painful to leave her, but the more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that my love for her was not strong enough to let myself be bound by marriage. Moreover, I had enjoyed a wonderful life here and we had been very happy together, but how would things be in the States? Would she be able to adjust herself? Nor did I know how people would react at home if I returned with a Chinese bride. Father would understand, but the others?
* * * *
In Washington I was stationed at the State Department’s China desk, where I busy myself again with the country where I was born. Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese National Government has fled to Taiwan and Mao Zedong has marched into Peking. For us Americans the curtain has dropped on a drama in which for a long time we tried in vain to mediate. ‘Red China’ has closed its doors to us, and I have no way of communicating with May and my friends there. How will my beloved Peking look now, how will my dearest May get on, whom I long for so intensely now that she is out of reach? Her large sparkling eyes, her long shiny hair, her lovely mouth, her humour, and that resolute chin of hers. Professor Sun and Paul are also often in my thoughts. They saw communism as an acceptable alternative to the corrupt Guomindang. Maybe they will be proven right; I hope so for their sake.
Square of Heavenly Peace, l October 1949
Here I stand with my father on the big square in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen) where more than a hundred thousand people are gathered. A sea of waving red flags surrounds us.
There on the high balcony of the dark-red and brass-studded Gate of Heavenly Peace, at the entrance of the imperial palaces, they tower above us, those new leaders, clapping their hands and waving gaily to the immense crowd underneath. The Gate stands out impressively against the brilliant cloudless arc of turquoise blue, and everybody and all things are etched with great precision in that particular clarity of light of a North China autumn day.
When Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, and ended his stirring speech with the words “Zhongguo qilaila! China has risen!“, words that were received with deafening cheers, my father and I felt strangely moved. We looked at each other with tears in our eyes, and we were not the only ones who could hardly contain their emotion. We knew that everyone thought and hoped for the same thing: if only China could become one again and stand up at last, after all those years of humiliation, foreign occupation, poverty, backwardness, corruption and miseries of war.
Mao speaks with a Hunanese accent, and with his broad, round head looks more like a friendly peasant than a shrewd politician, but it is commonly known that under his deceptively benign appearance he is a grimly determined and ruthless leader, steeled in long and bitter struggles, unflinchingly resolved to change society radically. On the wall next to the Gate hangs a very large portrait of the new leader.
“He is both earthy and a visionary,” said my father, “a man with a gun and with ideas, and now all-powerful.”
For those men up there, among whom I discerned such famous figures as Zhou Enlai and Zhu De, this must be a moment of ecstasy, I thought. After so many years of unrelenting struggle, of being persecuted like criminals, seeing their comrades tortured and executed, fleeing from an overpowering armed force, enduring the indescribable hardships of the Long March, fighting bloody battles against the Japanese and Chiang Kai-shek’s armies, while slowly building up their strength in the barren wastes of the north-west, after all these years they had finally emerged from their caves, defeated the American-equipped Guomindang forces, overrun the whole of China, and chased Chiang and his National Government away from the mainland.
Now these revolutionary leaders could at last begin to realise their dream of a new, modern, socialist China.
“This Tiananmen Square has always had a very special meaning for me,” my father remarked. “It was here, as you know, that I took part, more than thirty years ago, in the great student demonstration. That ‘May the Fourth Movement’ was only one of many elements in the development towards a national, independent China, but it was an important starting shot. Could our dreams at last come true, that ‘China has risen’?
“By the way, have you noticed, Paul, how much these communist leaders, in spite of their desire for change, are aware of their historical role? That high balcony on which they stand is symbolic of their status and position: it is placed right on the central axis of the old imperial palace, the ‘Forbidden City’, where successive Sons of Heaven have sat on the Dragon Throne.
“It was from this high Gate of Heavenly Peace that the imperial Edicts used to descend upon the people, and now, from this same rostrum, their communist successors will be issuing their commands. China lies at their feet.”
“Yes,” I admitted. “It is an awesome thought. Nobody knows yet what the ‘New China’ will be like, but one thing seems certain: it can hardly be worse than the old.”
Father agreed. He wanted so much to believe this but did not appear to be completely convinced. He worried about the future of his children, especially May. Only yesterday he said to me: “You will be alright, Paul, but what about May? What will she become under a communist regime, with her child by an American? However nice a man Larry may be, he is now so far away that he might as well be living on the moon. Will her Chinese husband be able to protect her?” I tried to reassure him, but did not succeed completely, I’m afraid.
I walked back with him through the crowded streets where a festive mood reigned, and we had tea together.
“What an immensely long time we’ve been waiting for this,” I said. “Why have all attempts at renewal in China always come to nothing?”
“You might say, Paul, that the Chinese revolution has been going on for a century already. The renewal of our philosophical and political thought started long before the fall of the Manchu dynasty. The impact of the West was not exclusively bad and humiliating for us, as we are made to believe. At the very least it has stimulated our nationalism and patriotism. And don’t forget our great reformers who studied and acquired new ideas abroad; or the colleges, universities and hospitals that were established in our country by western scholars and financiers.
“Though the various Christian missions have converted relatively few Chinese to their religion, they did exercise a significant educational and cultural influence, and furthered the process of modernization. Did you know that in the countryside the communists are using a number of methods to promote literacy which had been introduced here by foreign missionaries? Larry told me some interesting things about what his father had done in Sichuan.
“When the Guomindang came into power it unfortunately soon lost its revolutionary character, and all experiments with reform failed. The war with Japan and the civil war did the rest.” My father sighed.
“I have heard it said that if Japan had not attacked us, the communists could not so easily, or perhaps not at all, have won a complete victory.”
“That could well be true. It certainly gave Mao Zedong possibilities that he would otherwise not have had. Let us hope that he at last will make the changes that are urgently needed, without making the mistake of slavishly following the Soviet Union.”
I remembered Larry saying that this was a vain hope, but I was fairly confident that we were going in the right direction. It was all very well for our American friends to criticize and reject communism, but we had had no choice. I missed my foreign friends, particularly Larry and Carl. It was extremely bad luck for May that Larry had had to leave prematurely, and that China and the U.S. were engaged in a verbal war. If politics had not intervened, May and Larry would now be a married couple.
When I came home from the mass meeting at the Gate of Heavenly Peace, I gave my wife an enthusiastic report of the events, but Fanglin’s reaction was reserved:
“I hope they’ll give you a job, but I’m not so sure they will. Aren’t we the bourgeoisie they hate?”
Officially I still worked in the Bureau of Foreign Affairs of the Municipality of Peking, but no work was done there now and it would most probably be abolished by the new regime. I had already lost the additional income I had earned by teaching Chinese at the American Language School, so I could well understand that Fanglin was worried. It was difficult to discuss with her my hopes and expectations with regard to the new political developments. She rejected everything and seemed to be more conservative than Chiang Kai-shek!
A week later I went to see my father again, as I often did, because he had always something of interest to talk about. When I entered his dimly lit study with window-panes made of rice-paper and wooden doors through which the icy wind penetrated, he sat at his desk piled high with books. He was wearing his worn, padded gown of dove-grey silk, the ends of the long sleeves held together and his hands tucked inside. This room remains unheated all through winter; the last briquette of coal-dust has been used up long ago.
“I’ve had a long talk with the famous scholar Guo Moruo who, as you’ll know, is a bigwig in the ‘New Democracy’.”
“That must have been interesting.”
“Kaizhen (as I still call him) is a Marxist but has always been a romantic as well, and he can be rather emotional sometimes. But now he gave me a sober and clear analysis of the situation and of his expectations. He assured me that Chinese communism will be different and remain independent from the Soviet brand, and that the new China will only learn and borrow from the U.S.S.R. whatever she needs for her own development.”
My father’s eyes twinkled and his sensitive face came alive as he recalled how in the past we had always absorbed foreign elements while remaining basically ourselves. China would be modernized but would always be China! And then he surprised me by saying that he is willing to do his bit, and has accepted to become a member of the People’s Consultative Conference which is, in theory at least, the highest organ of the state.
As if that were not enough, he sprang another surprise:
“We also talked about you. I shouldn’t wonder if one of these days you were to be approached for a serious job.”
“A job? Me? That would be splendid. My present job pays practically nothing, and will most probably be abolished anyway, so I’ll be sacked.”
Father laughed: “I know, and I also know that Fanglin is expecting a child.”
“What? How could you possibly know? She has only just found out herself!”
“From your wash-amah, who told ours… In China nothing remains a secret for long, you know that.”
I continued going to my office every day, even if there was no work to be done. With my friends and colleagues I eagerly discussed the events of the day, and we exchanged the latest news and gossip. Even Miss Zhongli, who comes from a prominent Guomindang background (surprisingly she has not fled to Taiwan with her family) had to admit that radical improvements are being made, and that the victorious army of country boys gave the whole nation a sample of the new set of standards, especially of their scrupulous incorruptibility:
“It is really unbelievable, but bribes and gifts are not accepted any more, neither by civilian officials nor by the military. My aunt had slipped recently in front of her house and sprained her ankle. A soldier who passed by, helped her back into her house and later returned with the purchases she had wanted to make. She thanked him and wanted to give him something, but he refused politely. Even a glass of tea he declined. A glass of hot water was all he would accept. And one hears it everywhere, even in a city such as Shanghai, that they may accept a match at the most, but never a box, a cigarette perhaps but not a whole pack. Just imagine how things were done before! This is all too good to be true. It will not last, of course.”
“Have you also seen,” said another, “those young soldiers standing here and there on street-corners preaching like evangelists, explaining the communist ideals to the people? Simple, honest country boys, as far as one can see, with their good-natured, healthy peasant faces.”
It was a revelation for us all that this was possible, and one of the most wondrous things to experience in a country where warlord troops had looted and raped, and the highest and lowest officials had largely been corrupt. Goods and services were now meticulously paid for. Regulations were issued to fix the price of the main commodities and … adhered to! A new and unheard of system of law and order has been established in China, and people vied with one another to excel in virtuous deeds.
A few weeks of uncertainty went by, until I was invited by the personnel director of the Prime Minister for a preliminary talk which proceeded routinely and left me in the dark as to my chances of being hired.
Shortly afterwards, however, I was summoned by Zhou Enlai himself! I went there with some trepidation, but once I stood in his office and the Premier welcomed me with a warm handshake, I felt bewitched by the considerable charm and authority he radiated. A slender man with a remarkably handsome, manly face, jet-black bushy eyebrows, grave searching eyes, and elegant almost feminine movements. There was something of a wise cat about him. His office was soberly furnished but in good taste. There hung two scrolls with beautifully calligraphic characters, one by a famous Sung painter and one with a modern, revolutionary text. These and a portrait of Mao Zedong were the only ornaments. Zhou was wearing a simple, high-collared costume, but of a fine cut and dark-grey material of the best quality. Tea was served and drunk. From under his heavy eyebrows he gave me a scrutinizing look:
“Mr. Sun, you have some experience with foreign affairs, you possess a good knowledge of the English language, and in various other respects we have also had good reports about you. We may have interesting work for you, but first I should like to ask you a question to which I want you to give me an absolutely frank answer, and none of those polite evasive phrases in which we Chinese are so well versed. Can I count on that?”
Zhou Enlai paused. I mustered up courage, telling myself ‘Now or never! No hollow phrases then.’
I answered boldly:
“Mr. Prime Minister, I believe I am a sufficiently modern man to do without those old-fashioned ambiguities.”
The premier smiled and his dark eyes lit up. His amiable attitude made me feel almost as if he were admitting me into his circle.
“Well, then tell me something about your political views, in particular your negative and positive ideas about the Liberation, the communist revolution.”
Off I went: “Like most others of my generation, Mr. Prime Minister, I was of course brought up with Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People. I am a nationalist, a patriot in the sense that I hope China will become strong and free from foreign (including Soviet) domination, free also from the many social abuses that still exist. The Guomindang has failed in every respect, and my only hope now is that the communist revolution may succeed and that this so-called class-struggle may be waged justly and fairly. Please forgive an inexperienced and ignorant young man for speaking so openly, Prime Minister, but you did say I should not answer evasively.”
Zhou looked pleased and laughed: “That is exactly what I wanted to hear. We can discuss those matters some other time, for we shall meet again. You see, I should like you to become my junior secretary. Does that appeal to you?”
I was completely bowled over by this astonishing offer. I thanked Zhou Enlai for the trust he put in me, but added that I had very little experience and feared that I could not live up to the Prime Minister’s expectations, even if I gave all my energies to it.
“You can, if you exert yourself. That is what I demand from myself and all my collaborators: to do all we can, and sometimes the impossible.”
The premier brought his tea-cup to his mouth without drinking, traditionally a sign that the interview was ended. We stood up, and Zhou gave me his hand: “I hope to see you again soon.”
Was he a radical, a communist? He struck me more as a refined gentleman from a good family.
Fanglin was of course also very happy with this good news. My father said: “Didn’t I tell you? You have a good reputation. So apparently has old Professor Sun Hanxun since I was invited to join the People’s Political Consultative Council. We have all got to do our bit, and hope things will turn out well. I am optimistic.”
It is an exhilarating experience to watch our country grow, both from within and outside of my job. To see a country, which had once been bent, broken and wounded, now stand up proudly, stretch her arms and flex her muscles. One cannot help being swept away, with millions of others, on a wave of enthusiasm and dedication. When I say ‘from within’, I must make it clear that in the beginning my tasks were very humble and unimportant, but in an office like this one hears much that is not generally known ‘outside’. I see the Prime Minister every day, bringing him his mail and other documents and sorting papers for him. He tells me about the day’s tasks and often, despite his extremely heavy workload, he will find a little time to talk with me in a more intimate and personal way, sometimes about office affairs or about the latest events, and occasionally about my personal and my family’s well-being. I gather that he had been rather fond of my father in the old days though they had not been together much. They had gone very different ways, of course. My father, a nationalist with progressive views, had become an outstanding scholar and writer of essays and short stories. Chou En-lai has never bothered much about his university studies; he had always, he told me, been a rebel and organizer of campaigns to change the old society along Marxist-Leninist lines, believing that this ideology was best suited for the purpose.
And perhaps it is. It is certainly most impressive to see how many important things the communists are able to do at once, yet without any great upheaval. Very wisely, the new leaders set up a United Front by establishing the People’s Consultative Conference with its many non-communist members. The ‘Common Programme’ adopted by this institution advocated gradualism. And gradually, but quite fast enough, things are firmly taken in hand by what many consider to be the most honest and efficient government that China has known for centuries.
It was the middle of July and the air was moist and sweltering when I was delivered of a boy. It went smoothly enough but I felt exhausted. He’s a sturdy baby but looks hot and clammy now. His continuous crying is gradually getting on my nerves and I feel uncomfortable, yet also somewhat relieved now that it’s all over, and proud that it’s a boy.
This will undoubtedly please my father whom I’m really very fond of: a boy is still valued more highly than a girl in our backward country. He and my stepmother will come tomorrow to inspect their grandson. Paul and Fanglin have already been here to admire the little one. My pregnancy had come as a terrible shock to Father. He absolutely did not want me to become an unmarried mother, so after much soul-searching I reluctantly became the wife, at least officially, of Dr. Dai Weiji who was willing to adopt the baby. I really did so only after Father and everybody else had insisted that it was for my child’s own best.
There the nurse comes with the baby to be fed. She’s an unattractive elderly spinster and can be very nasty. She shows in her manner her disapproval both of us — an umarried mother and a fatherless child. The doctors have been curt with me, making it clear that the sooner I leave the better, for I bring shame to their hospital. How big the baby is! I look at him intently again to see whether he really looks Chinese and am satisfied that he does; his eyes are somewhat round but it’s hardly noticeable. He is sweet and quiet while he’s drinking.
Weiji comes in after the feeding is over and he admires Xiaoliang (Little Liang) who reaches out for the book he holds in his hand.
“A good omen, Baomei (everyone calls me May but he insists on my Chinese name)!” he says smiling. “It means, of course, that he will become a scholar.”
Weiji means well, he comes to the hospital every day but I still have to get used to him. He’s not the husband I would have selected, had I been free. How different a turn my life has taken from what I’d hoped and expected! I’d never told Larry in so many words but I had counted on becoming his wife and going to America with him, where I should have been a modern woman, on a footing of equality with my husband.
That last evening before his departure — November last year it was, how long ago it seems now! — Larry kissed me with greater abandon and desire, and I felt happier in his embrace, than ever before; but when, our passion spent, we lay side by side, he suddenly said in an unusually soft voice:
“I have to tell you something, my love. A telegram has come from the State Department. I must leave China.”
It gave me a terrible shock. I asked him: “When?”
He hesitated a moment: “Day after tomorrow.”
“So I’ll still see you tomorrow?”
“I’m afraid not, for there’s a lot of work to be done in the office and I’ll have to pack in the evening.”
“I can help you pack!”
“No, thanks darling, better not.” And that had been all. Not even a hint that I could leave with him. I felt as if the sky had tumbled down on top of me. Then a wild rage took hold of me which I didn’t want him to see, so I left without a word. Naturally I was much too proud to ask whether I could come with him. Now, so many months later, I could tear my hair for having failed to do so. For he would have been a good husband. Perhaps he was not a very serious person and too fond of an easy life, but he loved me, of that I was sure. Probably the incalculable consequences of a marriage and life with a Chinese wife in America had daunted him. I could think of no other reason for his behaviour.
Yet it’s I who always know what I want and can make swift decisions, so I should have cut the knot. I’ve failed and am now left with a fatherless baby and an unwanted husband. The way the political situation is developing, there seems to be little chance of Larry ever coming back here or of my going to join him in the States. When he told me about the telegram I knew our parting was final. He said nothing about returning to China and I didn’t ask.
Should I have taken the initiative and ‘cut the knot’? No, if I had, I shouldn’t have been content: Larry ought to have loved me so much that he would not have let any objections stand in his way. I didn’t want half a Larry, and certainly not one who would have married me on account of my pregnancy. But oh, how I miss him! Why do I love that man so? When I got to know Larry he had been a revelation to me right away: a handsome young man, fond of sports, with a natural sense of humour and a fresh, innocent spontaneity, sometimes bordering on the childlike, such as I had not seen in anyone. For him and with him nothing was complicated, there was always his broad cheerful grin, everything was possible, and life suddenly appeared so simple, happiness within reach. He ushered me into another world. My own was so complicated, full of tensions and contrasts. And how sweet he always was to me: a big cuddly toy animal, a teddy bear. And on top of all that he spoke Chinese and showed a genuine interest in our language and culture.
After all the things we’ve experienced together, what he has done is incredible, unforgivable. How for Heaven’s sake could he do this to me? Leaving me behind without even a promise that he would see me again?
A cuddly bear? A cad, a monster, that’s what he is! Damn it, he’s an adult man, not a toy animal! The more I now thought about him, the angrier I became. I had the humiliating feeling that I had been dishonoured, that he’d taken advantage of my company to enliven his stay in Peking, only to abandon and forget me soon afterwards. At this thought I got so worked up that I banged my fists on the edge of my bed until they hurt and a frightened and angry nurse entered the room. This one was not unkind, however, and gave me some sweet tea, hoping to calm me down. As if that would help!
How often haven’t I gone through all this during those long months when I was carrying my baby: love and hate and anger, but also, later, tenderness for this innocent little one which I felt growing inside me. Those were dreadful months when I had to resign my job as an art editor and stay away from people for fear of being looked at and snubbed. Chinese society is cruel to anyone who does not conform to the rules. Going into hiding, while Larry was leading a carefree diplomat’s life!
I’m trying to turn my thoughts away from Larry and his sudden departure. So much has happened since then.
In January 1949, two months after he left, I felt thrilled when the Communist ‘People’s Liberation Army’ marched into Peking; in April the Guomindang capital Nanjing also fell. Naturally I did not write to Larry so he never knew that I was pregnant. He would not have received such a message anyway because all communications had been cut off.
For fear of their reaction I hadn’t informed my father and stepmother until I could hide it no longer. I definitely wanted an abortion since with a baby by a foreigner there was no future in China for me, nor for the child itself. When I told him, my father who can always control himself so well got extremely angry:
“How could you be so stupid, May! You, whom I’ve always considered as an intelligent girl. Why for God’s sake couldn’t you wait? You’re bringing disgrace upon yourself and our family! There can be no question of an abortion, it’s rather late for that anyhow. You’ll have to bring this child into the world and you must get married as soon as possible.”
“Married? What do you mean? With whom?”
“With lector Dai, of course, who has proposed several times already. He’d be willing to adopt the child.”
I was furious and my eyes must have flashed fire:
“Never, Father, never!” I cried and tore out of the room.
Later, Fanglin, Paul’s wife who is a good friend, tried to reason with me:
“Dear May, it’s none of my business, of course, whatever you do, but Paul and I love you very much and would be so glad to see you happy. Have you really considered how difficult life would be for you as an unmarried mother and for your child too? And it wouldn’t do to go against the family’s wishes — Father’s, that is.”
We had a long talk and Fanglin who also knew Dr. Dai, a lector in physics at the university, told me some very nice things about him. But he was fifteen years older than I and a widower without children. Though I also thought him quite congenial I did not care for him at all.
But after another week of desperate inner struggle I finally decided to swallow my pride and brush aside my sentiments for the sake of my baby and also — but that, I thought, was nonsense — to ‘save the honour of the family’. I must say that throughout my pregnancy Weiji has behaved most correctly. He adored the little one from the beginning and now it sometimes looks as if he considers himself his father.
After a few months, however, he started getting on my nerves. Being an old-fashioned Chinese gentleman he could not help asserting himself and telling me what I should and should not do, and how I ought to bring up Xiaoliang.
* * * *
But the Liberation has changed everything! Some nine months after the Communists marched into Peking, on 1st October, Chairman Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic and so the old China has gone. A wave of hope has swept the country. In the new China, the women are at last being freed from male dominance!
The new marriage-law enabled me to divorce Dr. Dai without much trouble. He looked miserable, standing by himself in the Divorce Court, and I almost pitied my husband who had after all not treated us badly and who abhorred being left alone. But I don’t want to be tied. There is also the fact that he does not share my admiration for Chairman Mao.
After Liberation I eagerly applied for an indoctrination course by the Party and was admitted. Since the political training would claim all of my time my son Xiaoliang — that was again done so efficiently by the Party — was immediately put in a crèche where he would be well looked after.
In the study-group of six young women, all of them pursuing the same goal, an atmosphere of solidarity and mutual trust was soon created. We were lodged in a former barracks, extremely simple and bare but clean, where my bed adjoined that of a girl of my age. Lihua was a simple peasant-girl who had not had any education. Her face was friendly and round in a rustic way and she had large staring eyes; a mild-tempered, affectionate type which at first sight would seem more sensually than politically inclined.
But one evening when neither of us could sleep she unexpectedly became quite fierce when in an undertone she talked about her youthful experiences:
“My parents are very poor peasants and as a small child I already had to work hard. I was thirteen when my eldest brother crept into bed with me for the first time and abused me. I was very upset, it was humiliating and extremely painful. At first I was too shy to talk about it but finally told my mother who hushed it up. My parents adored this brother and would not hear anything bad said of him. For three years, until he married and left home, he kept coming into my bed and I was powerless. I hated him, he was rough and stank of sweat and manure. I took a dislike to all men. Not being a virgin anymore I stood no chance of ever finding a husband anyway, or if I did he would ill-treat me. I was ruined. I could bear life in my village no longer and fled to the city where I managed to get work as a cleaner. Then, when the Communists came, I entered my name for any task which would further the liberation of women.”
I was moved by her tale and lay down side by side with her for a moment, but when I stroked her hair she reacted so impetuously, with such ardour, that I quickly withdrew. The programme was heavy. We had to get up at 5 and jog for an hour before consuming a meagre breakfast, after which the day was filled with lessons and study until ten in the evening, interrupted only by one meal of millet-porridge and beans or cabbage-soup. My head was buzzing with the many political concepts and terms that we were taught but after a while I became familiar with them.
Why had I always thought of China as a complicated country? My study of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong’s writings made everything clear. Our history was divided in a logical sequence of chapters, the contradiction between the classes explained, and my own place in society defined.
But then there came a period which was extremely difficult for me emotionally. We were all in turn subjected to group-criticism and I also had to attack the others. By the time my fellow-students were finished with their self-criticism I was the only one who remained under fire.
Under the subtle guidance of the party cadres my girl friends, even Lihua, again and again sharply criticized my bourgeois past, my poisonous thoughts and capitalist attitude. It worried and upset me no end.
And what was horrible too, was the form of house-arrest I was under. They never allowed me to visit Xiaoliang’s crèche and take him in my arms. How would he look now? Would they treat him well or also pester him as a ‘bourgeois child’? Why wasn’t I allowed to see him? I longed intensely for my little boy.
One after another I delivered descriptions of my life and self-criticisms to the political cadres. I described how I had enjoyed life without paying any attention to the plight of the poor peasants and workers. I had attended lavish dinner-parties in comfortable, warm restaurants at a time when people were starving and freezing to death. What had I been doing? I had been earning money working for a Guomindang newspaper which sided with the exploiting capitalist classes. I was deeply ashamed of my bourgeois, capitalist thinking which I now rejected completely. If only I could cleanse myself of my sins! I hoped the Party would make me atone for my evil past.
However, everything I wrote was discussed, criticized in the group and finally rejected by the leadership as incomplete and dishonest. I was totally isolated and began to feel ever more guilty. The cadres and my fellow students treated me coldly and with contempt. Oh, how could I change my thinking radically, what did I have to do?
At long last I was summoned by comrade Zhang, the party member who directed the course behind the scenes, a thin bespectacled man in his mid-thirties who smoked one cigarette after another.
“Sit down, Miss Sun,” he said in a soft voice and for what seemed a long time transfixed me with a piercing look which made me nervous. Of what were they going to accuse me this time?
“You’ve delivered a whole series of descriptions of your life which were all unsatisfactory. Surely you know why?”
I felt oppressed with fear for I could guess what he was hinting at, but answered:
“No, I don’t.”
“That’s strange. Then I’ll tell you. In none of those reports have you mentioned the fact that the father of your child is not Chinese. What is his nationality?”
So that was it. Here again I was to be blamed for Larry:
“He’s an American.”
“Exactly. You might as well say: an American imperialist who studied our language in order to spy on us. That is what we want to hear you say. The truth! No fabrications!”
I seemed to regain some of my self-confidence when I was accused of telling falsehoods:
“Comrade Zhang, that’s not correct. I’ve not written any untruths but I didn’t realize that his nationality was important. You must know that this man has completely disappeared from my life.”
“Do you deny that he was an imperialist?”
“Whether he was one I don’t know. Perhaps he was, since he worked for the American government. But I can’t picture him as a spy.”
“Nor can you deny it?”
“I honestly don’t know, I never noticed anything suspicious.” Zhang dismissed me but during the week that followed he summoned me many times for more talks. Apparently he knew a great deal about Larry and me, and I got the impression that the Party had studied the matter seriously. Finally, to be done with it, but even more because I was gradually beginning to think that some of the accusations against Larry might after all be well-founded, I agreed to write that my child’s father was an American imperialist who had abandoned me when I had become pregnant; and that he had studied Chinese, possibly with a view to acting as a spy and sabotaging the socialist construction of the new China.
Only then was my autobiography approved. I felt immensely proud when I received a certificate to the effect that I had successfully terminated the indoctrination course. Comrade Zhang solemnly handed it to me with a stern face but for the first time there was a faint twinkle in his eyes. At my own request I was sent to the countryside for my further ideological education. Zhang had suggested that it might help me get rid of my bourgeois-capitalist thinking and make me understand the glory of labour. I was by now wholly convinced that the Party which in every instance, as I had noted, proceeded most carefully, must always have been right about Larry and everything else. How could I, an insignificant individual, ever have thought to know better? Months of studying the works by Chairman Mao had given me that absolute certainty. I now believed. A time of very hard work followed in a poor village in northern China where I consciously humbled myself in order to struggle against my capitalist vanity and fear of filth, carried heavier weights than was required and went on working, even in pouring rain, long after the others had finished.
After some months I returned to Peking where I was given a job with my old newspaper, not in the fine arts department but in the political section.
Soon afterwards I was invited to join the Communist Party and I jumped for joy. Of course I accepted immediately whereupon I was admitted as a candidate-member with a probationary period of one year.
Now, happily, I could at last visit the crèche and see my little Liang. Occasionally he was even allowed to come home for a day. He had grown fast and was tall for a two-year-old, sturdily built and always cheerful and laughing.
My father and Paul congratulated me on my Party membership; they are proud of me, I think, but their attitude is somewhat ambivalent: they admire much of what the new regime is doing but still hesitate to take sides. Paul likes his job with Zhou Enlai and I am happy for him, but will he ever become a good Communist? He should, for he has progressive ideas and he’s intelligent.
An article appeared in the newspapers about an American imperialist which closely resembled my own story but it also contained many gruesome details of that American’s misdeeds. It alarmed me. Had Larry been such a scoundrel? Made love to me and simultaneously degraded and hurt my country and people? The war in Korea had broken out. Our North-Korean allies were attacked by the United States and this infuriated me even more. My editor now often commissioned me to report on meetings and demonstrations where American imperialism was condemned. That was just the thing for me, for I had become rabidly anti-American. Naturally I was not against the American people but I hated its imperialist leaders and their agents. When I quoted the usual fierce slogans in my reports, I often added my own biting comment. Soon people were saying that I had the gift of converting the most worn-out, trite clichés into fresh expressions and creating arresting new catch-words. Though I wrote most of my articles under a pseudonym, I acquired quite a reputation and was told: “Your star is rising!”
I became an active member of the League of Democratic Women and regularly helped draft their sharp resolutions. I noticed that Father and Paul, without saying so explicitly, were not very happy about my activities. They are lagging behind in these times of change; in spite of the war they are still not anti-American. “You don’t really believe, do you, May, all those cruel and criminal deeds supposedly perpetrated by Americans? The stories the official propaganda serves up daily?” Paul asked me during one of our regular meals out. “Such as American soldiers pictured as ‘cannibals’ or practising their machine-guns and flame-throwers on prisoners of war?”
“And do you honestly contend, Paul, that all those accusations are fabricated? Some may have been exaggerated somewhat in the heat of the political struggle but you should hear the horrible stories with which our wounded volunteers return from Korea! The Americans really are beasts, monsters. “Also, may I ask, what business do they have in Korea anyway and why do they threaten us? They can have only one aim: to humiliate and crush China again and to bring the corrupt, criminal gang of Chiang Kai-shek to power. But in this they will never succeed.”
Paul shrugged. He did not seem convinced. It is an exciting period for young people who are politically engaged. Why is Paul, who was enthusiastic in the beginning, so lukewarm now? He’s always been critical and reserved, that’s the way his mind works, but one day he’ll come round and see the fantastic challenge of our time. He can’t miss it, working in the great Zou Enlai’s office, where I’m sure he is doing an excellent job. I’ve always admired Paul, only wished he would be more decisive. I’m busy every day and hardly have enough time for the numerous meetings and campaigns in which I participate. I’m so glad that Father is actively taking part in building the New China, as a member of the PPCC, even if he doesn’t yet share my devotion to the Cause.
Am I too passionately involved? How could I be different, when such great things are happening? It is strange that even some old Communists like Second Uncle seem to be less fervent than I and most of my young comrades. Of course I had looked up to him as the only ideologically correct member of the family. Whenever I have a chance I like to discuss the present situation with him. He’s a quiet, round-faced man with an unkempt shock of jet-black hair, friendly, expressive eyes which can turn ice-cold and a sharp, analytical mind. But the other day I was taken aback when during a long and stimulating talk with him he suddenly remarked that I was too fierce, as was often the case with ‘late converts’! That just shows that he belongs to another generation: he had already secretly joined the Communist Party as an undergraduate in the early thirties.
My only concern is that my work prevents me from giving my little Liang the attention he needs. He’s now nearly three years old and the sweetest child in the world. He loves to be cuddled and when he looks at me gratefully or with that roguish smile of his, my heart melts.
Lihua, my room-mate during the indoctrination course, has found a modest job in some office and has moved in with me. She is less busy than I so she can look after Xiaoliang when he has a day off from the crèche and I happen to have a meeting. In the kindergarten they have made a very good and obedient child of him, too much so, I sometimes fear. He has lately become so unnaturally passive and meek. Xiaoliang is very fond of Lihua and shows it. He always brings home from the nursery the most touching new songs and slogans: “Chairman Mao is our Great Saving Star”, “We are all Chairman Mao’s good children”, “When I grow up, I will be a Soldier”, or “The Communist Party is like the Sun”.
These early morning hours I always enjoy most. In our courtyard, grown with flowers and trees, I first execute those extremely slow gymnastic movements which completely relax the body and the mind. Then, after a frugal breakfast of tea and a steamed bun, I enter my study where the softened sunlight falls on the innumerable books and the bronze Buddha.
Lovingly I cast a glance on the scrolls with beautifully calligraphed verses, the classical and modern books — Chinese and Western — the long rows of historical annals, the table with the antique lute, my desk with the sandalwood sealbox, the writing brushes with their ivory shafts, and the perfectly carved inkslab whose inscription shows that it once belonged to the famous poet and calligrapher Wen Beng of the Ming dynasty.
My first wife was artistically minded. She painted flowers, bamboo and birds, and her writing style was not without merit. Hers was a gentle and attractive nature and I loved her very much. Yet after her death I did not want to go on living by myself and so I remarried some years later.
Yuxin is a totally different personality: beautiful, cheerful and superficial but also wilful. Her dearest hobby is to play and gamble at mah-jong. May does not like her much and though my wife never gave a hint of it, I know it is reciprocal. With Paul she gets on very well though. And I myself? Well, I have no complaints. There is no great passion anymore between us but we lead a comfortable life together.
I do not feel any urge to visit the seductive ‘flower-girls’ in the famous tea-houses outside Qian Men, as I sometimes did when I was younger. And a good thing too. The new regime has rounded up all those women, whether common whores or refined courtesans, and placed them in a camp for their re-education.
From the copper-studded rosewood chest I carefully lift the costly leaves of rare paper. I have only a few left. The money to buy things like these has long been gone. And how long will I be able to keep my other valuables? For fuel, food and clothing I have had to sell several works of art to which I was attached. Suddenly I feel cold and shiver. My eye falls on the pair of matched verses, one on each side of the doorway, which remind me that autumn has come:
‘The lamp shines gently in the quiet scholar’s room;
the rain falls steadily on cold chrysanthemum flowers.’
As usual I first practise with my brush on old newspapers before I start calligraphing a fitting verse for one of my friends on this special paper. It requires extreme concentration and exhausts me but I am not dissatisfied with the result. It entitles me to lie down on my couch for a while.
Later, I cycle to the university of Beijing, Beida, to continue my course on Chinese history. But in these times of great changes today’s subject cannot hold the attention of the students, who usually listen spell-bound to my lectures — this has even made some of my colleagues jealous — and I therefore switch from the Ming dynasty over to a more modern theme: the political role of Chinese students, starting with the ‘May the Fourth’ movement of 1919 in which I myself participated. Now they are keenly interested again. They know that this movement has given a tremendous impulse to the development of our national consciousness and ask me endless questions.
When they asked questions like:
“What can we students do now for our country?” and “Are divergent views tolerated under the new regime?” I told them that we must all support the government and devote ourselves to the tasks in hand. Everything must be subject to the main aim: the building of a new China. And I explained in glowing terms what we meant by that. As to ‘divergent views’, I pointed out that other progressive parties can take part in the political process but only within certain limits, for in our ‘new democracy’ the Communist party has a leading role.
“How did it go today?” Yuxin asked when we were having tea later that afternoon.
“The students were not interested in the Ming dynasty right now. So I gave them a bit of my old-fashioned patriotism and some Mao Zedong Thought! During this pep-talk I found to my amusement that I almost sounded like a Party official…”
Yuxin laughed: “Don’t overdo it now, Hanxun, or they will make you one.” It was with great enthusiasm that I participated in the deliberations of the People’s Political Consultative Council (PPCC). China is ruled by a multi-party government in which the Communists play a preponderant role. This is a fascinating time for there are innumerable problems that have to be solved. I admire the integrity, the seriousness and complete devotion of the Communist cadres. How different they are from the corrupt Guomindang.
The Communists know and understand the mentality of the peasants and their problems much better than those of the urban population; no wonder, since their revolution has been confined to the countryside for so many years. They still suffer from the ‘loess cave mentality’ of Yenan and know little about the outside world. Fortunately they are willing to learn and welcome the assistance which urban intellectuals can give them.
All over the country citizens are stimulated to engage in social activities. Sports and other healthy exercises are organized for children and adolescents on a mass scale.
For Chinese women a new age has arrived: they have been liberated through the new marriage laws and are to be given equal opportunities. It is a time of rebirth and of a new, formidable challenge.
* * * *
However, the initial euphoria about the new regime is now gradually ebbing away, and I feel more and more frustrated. Little is left of the promises of a multi-party government, of a ‘New Democracy’. The Communist Party reigns supreme and decides everything. That has undoubtedly always been its aim but it seems the process has been accelerated by the outbreak of the Korean war.
Whenever he can find the time, Paul comes and visits me. It pleases me that he still appreciates my judgement, even though as secretary to Zhou Enlai he knows so much more about the political situation than I do. He keeps me informed of the most important developments.
During a recent visit he showed surprise when, after I had told him how much I valued the information he gave me, I added:
“Our newspapers only provide us with stereotyped generalities and in the PPCC we’re not told much more nowadays.”
“Really, Father? I thought you’d be fully consulted on all matters of importance.”
“No, my son, no longer. In the beginning, yes, but gradually we’re less and less involved in any deliberations, let alone decisions. And there are quite a few developments that I and some of my friends are opposed to. One thing that particularly irks me right now is that the Party is destroying the family which it considers a ‘feudal institution’.
“I think it’s a downright crime to set up children against their parents: the kids are urged to spy on and denounce their own father and mother! Now, with the Korean war on, the hard-liners have free play and even the mildest criticism is not allowed.”
Paul agreed that the war in Korea and the U.S. intervention there have given rise to more radical slogans and the most grotesque accusations against the hated American enemy and his alleged Chinese accomplices — ‘running dogs of American imperialism’. Foreign nationals have been arrested and jailed or deported. Many Chinese men and women in and outside the Party are being rounded up as ‘enemies of the people’, ‘spies’ or ‘counter-revolutionaries’. In this warlike atmosphere we avoid foreigners for fear of becoming implicated by being seen with them outside our official duties, but there have been no signs of xenophobia among the people, even at the height of the vicious anti-foreign propaganda.
Paul tells me he was walking through a street near one of the Roman Catholic missions; on a wall a huge poster was displayed of foreign nuns cooking Chinese babies! From the other direction a French or Belgian nun was approaching, and as she was passing under the poster, a small group of Chinese bystanders, who possibly knew her, greeted this ‘cruel cannibal’ in the most polite and friendly way.
In times like these it is great to have a son like Paul. I am proud of my two children. My son and daughter both have a remarkable talent for writing. Before Liberation May’s articles on art were always real gems, as polished and elegant as the objets d’art she described, yet written with great warmth and enthusiasm.
Paul also has a warm personality but his mind is more analytical and detached, and this is reflected in his writing-style. May is strong-willed and inclined to think in terms of black and white, while Paul is less resolute and his approach is more differentiated. What distresses me nowadays, however, is the fierceness and stridency of May’s political articles, even though I must admit they are cleverly written and I’m sure she honestly means what she says. She has changed much since she chose Communism. May has a dual personality, as I see it: she has a logical, dialectical mind, always had the highest grades in math, and at the same time she is artistic, a dreamer with a great love and knowledge of art. Now her first attributes seem to have taken over: Communism has apparently provided her with all the logical answers — however simple — to our problems. May comes to see me occasionally, though less frequently than Paul, and I’m always very pleased when she does, but we never discuss politics anymore. She has become so anti-American. The same with my younger brother Hanzhang, who is, after all, an old-established Communist and well-known journalist in Tianjin, but at his age should know better; we have always respected each other’s views but when we meet now, which rarely happens these days, we also avoid political subjects.
Yuxin is a dear wife and we’re happy together, but she offers no intellectual stimulation. She’s always in a sunny and cheerful mood; sometimes I wish I could distance myself from the political developments the way she does.
Weeks later Paul dropped in again, to my great joy, for I’m beginning to feel more and more isolated. I can’t even trust my own students anymore and am very careful not to express any political views of my own. With Paul I can hold forth on my favourite subjects for any length of time, and he seems to enjoy this too.
“Have you heard,” Paul asked, “what songs your grandson Liang brings home from his kindergarten? May told me. The latest is: ‘Chairman Mao is Our Father, the Communist Party is Our Mother’. Now did I hear you complain a while ago that the Party was abolishing the family system?”
We chuckled. But Paul shares my concern that everybody is caught in a web — his residents’ committee or work unit — in which he is spied upon by order of that big, watchful spider: the Party.
We’ve always explained the negative aspects of Communism away with the argument that it was unavoidable in the initial stages of the new regime but now I am beginning to doubt whether it’s right. I am grateful for the many positive achievements that were made so far but I ask myself how much cruelty and lack of freedom are justified to achieve those noble ends. I discussed this with Paul who’s also beginning to feel the strain of this spiritual straitjacket. I couldn’t help comparing the present with the time of Qin, in the 3rd century B.C.:
“When it comes to freedom of expression, Paul, there is not much difference, I’m afraid, between Chairman Mao and the Qin Emperor, and one can only hope all this is only temporary. In the minds of the Legalist philosophers already, the people served merely as an instrument to provide power for the ruler. The people’s brain, it was said, must be like blank paper on which the ruler could write whatever he thought fit.”
Paul looked up. He seemed to recognize this.
“Haven’t you referred to something like that before, some passage in the Dao De Jing?” he asked.
I took the classical book of Daoism, the Dao De Jing , from my book-shelves and looked up the passage I knew so well and which Paul remembered:
“… the Wise Man rules the people by emptying their brain, filling their stomach, weakening their will, and strengthening their muscles, so that they will have no knowledge and no desire.”
We remained silent for a while. Finally I said:
“It would be a terrible thing if the amoral ideas of the Legalists of over two thousand years ago would again take root in our country.”
“Oh, come now, Father, whatever is wrong with the Communist political system, that would be absurd, that can’t happen! If you worked with a man like Zhou Enlai every day, you would not even contemplate such a sinister possibility.”
So my son, though critical, has not given up hope. Is it because I’m so much older that I find it difficult to share Paul’s optimism? Deep down I feel that our present predicament is only a beginning and that things will get worse.
Paul had to go back to his office and I decided to take a walk. I needed some fresh air. Somewhat stiffly I got out of my chair, donned a light overcoat, opened the gate and slowly strolled into the narrow lane. It was a beautiful day, sunny and tranquil. The only sound one heard was that of insects buzzing in the linden trees. The few passers-by moved leisurely and spoke softly. Life flowed unhurriedly in this part of the old, traditional Peking.
But I hadn’t gone very far when I heard shrill children’s voices shouting:
“Sha! Sha! Sha!” — “Kill! Kill! Kill!”
What was going on there? The noise increased when I got nearer and passed the play-ground of a primary school. I halted and watched with incredulity. About a hundred young kids from six to ten years old, the ‘good children of Chairman Mao’, armed with wooden rifles and bayonets, were fiercely attacking dummy soldiers representing the American enemy. Instructors were teaching them where a stab with the bayonet produces the best effect: in the chest and in the abdomen.
It was a sickening sight. When I got home I noted in my Diary the memories which this scene recalled.
* * * *
From Professor Sun Hanxun’s Diary:
“Sha! Sha! Sha!” the young children shouted…
How well I remember that with this same war-cry the formidable Qin army in exemplary battle-array came storming full tilt against our troops. This was in the third century B.C., but I see it all very clearly again.
In front, in rectangular formations, the tens of thousands of infantry-soldiers making up the main body: tall, square-built figures in simple uniforms and light shoes, their hair smoothly brushed backwards and on the left side tied together in a knot, bow and arrow held in their hands. In between and behind them row after row of impressive armoured warriors, in groups of four men shoulder to shoulder, all of them armed with swords, lances or battle-axes. These units are alternated with cavalry, chariots and command-cars. The swiftly galloping riders can shoot their arrows, in the Persian manner, with as much ease backwards as in any other direction. On both flanks more infantry units are ready for combat with bow and arrow.
Frightening is the striking-power and flexibility of this extraordinarily disciplined army which nobody and nothing can hold back, least of all the old-fashioned, heavy and unwieldy chariots of its adversaries. At any moment it can repel an enemy attack, from whichever direction it comes, whilst it can itself easily take the offensive, now in this, now in the opposite direction. These enormous armies move with an astonishing precision and rapidity. The commands are simple and efficient: at the first drum-beat the troops start moving; the second beat is the signal to attack; the single ring of bell is the signal to halt; and twice means retreat.
In this period of the Warring States one Chinese state after another is conquered by the Qin armies. The state of Qin has become a fighting-machine against which nothing is proof. My native region of Ji (the present Shantung) has also been overrun.
When my friend Hongxu and I have finished our studies under the philosopher Xunzi, we set off for the capital of the powerful Qin hoping to find employment there. We have been told that there is a great shortage of intellectuals and that the Qin Emperor needs people like us. We go there with a heavy heart, for the First Divine Emperor, as he calls himself, is a formidable ruler, severe and cruel. Qin Shihuangdi is the mightiest and greatest on earth, greater than all former rulers. That is what he says and orders to be engraved on monuments in every corner of his Empire. He has joined the former feudal states together and unified the country for the first time, he has stripped all the kings and the aristocracy of their power and changed Chinese society completely. In executing his ideas millions have died but that does not bother him. Only his own life is important.
The Emperor is described as ‘a man with a protruding nose, slit eyes and the chest of a bird of prey; he has the voice of a jackal, knows no mercy, and has the heart of a tiger or a wolf.’ His mother had barbarian blood, which explains perhaps why he is more cruel, wilder and more unbridled than his Chinese subjects. He was born in 259 B.C. and at the age of thirteen became king of Qin, a small state in the far west, bordering on the desert, that already then was more powerful and militant than its neighbours. When he had unified the country in 221 B.C. he took a new title, that of Shihuangdi, First Divine Emperor.
* * * *
I’ve never seen my wife so unhappy before. Poor Yuxin had to give up her mah-jong parties which have been criticized as ‘capitalist’ and ‘reactionary’ by the residents’ committee. What a childish idea! She was so very fond of them, they were her main hobby. The ladies she regularly played with have been warned by their political watchdogs to stay away from her sinful gatherings, and now they are even afraid to visit her.
To console her somewhat, I bought her a jade necklace at an antique dealer’s where I sometimes find a good bargain; even so, I had to sell him one of my minor scrolls to pay for it. Yuxin loved it and my present clearly gave her much pleasure.
When she came into my study wearing the necklace over a pearl-grey dress which beautifully accentuated the green jade, I told her she was a classical beauty. This delighted her, she threw her arms around my neck and kissed me tenderly.
Her reaction to my second buy of the day was rather different. I had decided to take the precaution of hiding my autobiographical notes in a hollow plaster bust of Mao Zedong which I bought for this purpose. I reckoned that no zealous Maoist would ever dare to touch it, let alone look inside his head as if to verify whether the Chairman had any brains.
Yuxin looked horrified at the thing, wrinkled her nose and asked, “Must we really have that here?”, but my reply that we might be safer with such an object in the house, silenced her. She has a lot of common sense.
Now that I re-read what I recently wrote in my diary about the Qin Emperor’s need for intellectuals, it occurs to me that here again there is a parallel with the present time. Hasn’t Mao Zedong also let it be known that he needs the intellectuals? However, I am gradually beginning to doubt whether he trusts us and has really destined us for playing a meaningful role.
An astonishing thing has happened. Nobody ever dares to contradict the all-powerful Party, but now, with a new slogan, Mao Zedong has suddenly and unexpectedly invited us intellectuals to criticize even party officials! He has declared “Let A Hundred Flowers Bloom, Let A Hundred Schools Contend”, and we are suddenly supposed to be free to express our views, whatever they may be.
I shall of course refrain from ventilating criticism and I’m not the only one who does not believe in this new motto. Almost everyone was afraid to open his mouth but after repeated official assurances that criticism would not be punished, a torrent of serious grievances and reproaches burst forth. Fortunately Paul had warned me in time:
“Be careful, Father, keep your mouth shut. I’ve seen a confidential document from which it appears that Chairman Mao’s real aim is to lure the critics out into the open and then to seize them.”
This was indeed what happened. Those poor wretches who had fallen into the trap had to pay a heavy price for it. It started with the media: soon after the ‘Hundred Flowers’ campaign the radio and the newspapers screamed that all ‘poisonous weeds’ and all the snakes and demons that had been lured out of their holes, had to be destroyed.
And so, in the middle of 1957, an ‘Anti-Rightist Rectification Campaign’ was launched during which hundreds of thousands of intellectuals, even those who had ventilated only mild and constructive criticism, were mercilessly persecuted. As punishment they were sent down to the cruel ‘reform-through-labour’ (laogai) camps.
The First Emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, also turned against the scholars and extinguished many of them. The existential question forces itself upon us: are we regressing to that period? Is all that we have acquired in twenty centuries in the way of culture and human values to be destroyed? The First Divine Emperor was at least frank; Chairman Mao on the contrary poses as a Saviour and stirs up the masses with ideological slogans and promises. A dictatorship based on a fundamentalist religion or ideology, it would seem, will cause mankind to suffer even greater harm and grief than a dictatorial regime without such pretensions, if only because a fanatical ideology, by its very nature, is all-embracing, more totalitarian than a ‘business-like’ dictatorship. Many of our friends were rounded up and sent to distant places. There reigned an atmosphere of fear and tension but since I had refrained from any criticism of the Party, I expected to be spared. How wrong I was.
A Party official and several members of the dreaded security police arrived at our house, looking grim and determined. A cold shiver ran down my spine and I was whipped by panic, for I knew this meant serious trouble. Yuxin’s face was a deadly pallor. We both stood there stupidly, motionless, unable to utter a word.
We were locked up in a room, while the house was searched and our servant interrogated, all this without any reason given. It was ominous and frightful. Yuxin and I sat in black despair. Finally one of them came in, told us we were under house-arrest pending our being ‘sent down’ (i.e. to some Godforsaken place in the countryside), and warned us not to communicate with any one. The telephone wires were cut and posters were put up at the entrance declaring that we were ‘black rightists’ and ‘enemies of the people’. We could not see these posters but our faithful Lao Zhang told us in whispers, adding that he had just had time to phone Paul before the line was cut. For one whole week we were only given some bread and cold noodles to eat and some water to drink. Then one day a most welcome food parcel was brought in, which revived our spirits; we knew from the handwriting that Paul had sent it and we searched it for some message but there was none.
Soon afterwards my wife and I were put in a truck in which two of my colleagues were sitting, and taken to an unkown destination in the countryside. We felt weak and dejected. None of us could even guess why this was happening to us. It was a mystery.
From Professor Sun’s Diary:
We were quartered in a distant village with extremely poor peasants who received us with hardly concealed hostility. No wonder, because they themselves had little to eat. We were starving and had to work hard. It was a hell upon earth. I worried that my wife would succumb to this treatment but Yuxin remained miraculously cheerful and had the good fortune of being sent back home after a few weeks. I myself and my colleagues were loaded onto a truck and transported to a camp for political prisoners (‘black, rightist elements’) somewhere in a barren rocky region in the northwest of China. Compared with our situation in this camp that village had been paradise. The work here is unbearably heavy and humiliating: cleaning toilets, gathering human excrement and scattering it over the fields, hauling back-breaking loads and working the stone-hard earth with prehistoric instruments. There is very little to eat.
I suppose that I have, like so many others, been a victim of false accusations and can only hope that the truth will come to light. These are times of envy, vindictiveness and hate.
* * * *
And then, unexpectedly and to my immense relief, I was released from the concentration camp. It made me feel delirious with joy, but after those six months of hard labour and little food I also felt very weak; I constantly trembled like a very old man. Travelling back to Peking was both an ordeal and a feast: I was going home at last!
Yuxin, Paul, Fanglin and May were inordinately happy; one could see they had lost all hope of seeing me again so soon. A festive meal was prepared and the house was decorated with flowers. When I sat down in my study for a moment behind my own desk, I felt like a King! They were doing everything in their power to restore my health but I could’t eat much, as if my stomach had shrunk. Yet after some time I began to feel better. What worried me was that I had great trouble writing in my Diary an account of what happened to us in exile; my brush kept spluttering and making awkward movements.
From my son I learned that one of my unsuccessful and apparently vindictive students had falsely accused me. When Paul managed to obtain evidence of this, Premier Zhou Enlai had helped him secure my release. I am going to pay him a visit to thank him as soon as I can.
Various events, such as the Korean war, the harsh political campaigns and my father’s arrest as a ‘rightist element’, have darkened our existence which had looked so sunny and promising just after Liberation. And after Father was released we again experienced such severe jolts, so many ups and downs that I feel uncertain and fearful about what the future will bring. But I must not run ahead of my story.
When I started my job in the Prime Minister’s office my work included minor secretarial tasks for Zhou, but on the strength of my former experience I had to deal mainly with routine matters of diplomatic protocol. Until I was summoned by Zhou Enlai:
“My dear Sun, I have read with pleasure this memorandum of yours about diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom. The contents are crystal-clear and you have a knack of combining elegant, almost classical prose with the political terminology that is now in fashion. Suppose I should involve you more in my own work? Not just sort out my mail and documentation but also occasionally write a speech for me?”
“Write a speech for you, Prime Minister? I? But you have a magnificent style, not to be compared with my scribbles! I would not dare.”
“You can do it, Sun. Here is your first assignment. At the end of the week I shall give a speech at a meeting of the Chinese-Birmese Friendship Association. You can make it up yourself but I’ve jotted down a few notes that have nothing to do with Birma but with some actuality, in this case developments around Taiwan, and you will have to work that into the text.”
It was a great challenge for me. There were only two days left for this task but when I handed in the text the Prime Minister who is very demanding and extremely precise, was so content with it that very little had to be changed.
From that day on I am now regularly receiving the so-called ‘reference material’, a confidential newsletter for internal use only which gives me the necessary background for such speeches; it makes me more of an insider and it gives me greater prestige but also a heavy responsibility. I must be careful not to divulge inadvertently any of the secrets which I come across.
Larry and Carl would be surprised if they saw me in this new function. Where would they be now, in Washington and The Hague, or in an Embassy abroad? Even though there is never a dull moment now, I still miss the many talks and dinners with them, the tennis and squash. Would May, who appears so bitter about Larry, still have a soft spot for him in her heart? She would never admit it to me for she is much too proud.
Every day I ride my bike, amidst thousands of others, along the broad Changan avenue and past the Gate of Heavenly Peace to my office. Only on presentation of my special pass am I allowed in through the gate. The leaders of Communist China have established their living quarters and offices in the luxurious garden compound Zhongnanhai (Central and South Lake), dotted with pavilions, palaces and gardens of the ‘Forbidden City’ and strongly impregnated with the glory and might of the old Empire.
It is fitting that Chairman Mao lives there now. He commands respect and is worshipped as a new Emperor of the people. His brilliant strategies in the guerilla-war against the Japanese and in the civil war, his inspiring mobilisation of the masses, his struggle for an independent and strong, new China have made a national hero of him.
My job with the Premier is keeping me increasinly busy so I cannot enjoy the delights of our lovely house and garden as often as I should like to. My salary is very modest but enough to live on. Fanglin remains extremely critical of nearly everything the new regime undertakes but our private life is a reasonably happy — or perhaps I should say comfortable — one. She hates the frequent political indoctrination meetings, the ‘thought reform’ which, of course, I do not relish myself. But she is glad that I am employed by the Premier which assures us a large measure of security in turbulent times. No doubt these thought reform exercises will end one day when the new order is firmly established.
As a result of my regular contact with Zhou Enlai I have come under the spell of that great man for whom I am willing to work as I’ve never worked before. He would indeed not accept anything less and he is even more demanding of himself. An indefatigable worker, he will never put off anything that can be dealt with immediately, even if it means working until the early hours of morning. He is not slow either, he can solve the most complex problems calmly and swiftly. Zhou has a genius for organisation and administration, and well he needs these qualities since, apart from his Party work as a leading member of the Politburo, he is faced with the formidable task of setting up and supervising practically all the organs of the new state. He is also Foreign Minister, establishing diplomatic relations with a large number of foreign countries.
All those who work for Zhou Enlai do their utmost to satisfy his high expectations. He only has to enter your office with those elegant, lithe steps, his left arm held stiffly pressed against his body, and to focus his grave, searching eyes on you, and you’re immediately all ears and ready to devote yourself wholeheartedly to the task in hand. His grateful smile makes you happy but a light frown of his heavy, dark eyebrows is a reprimand which makes you lie awake at night.
Mao is a very different character. A revolutionary thinker, extremely clever and resourceful in political manoeuvring, it is said he likes to take sudden and unexpected action, but remains a loner and does not heed much the advice of others if it differs from his own ideas. From all accounts it seems he is not a practical statesman. Where would he be without Zhou, I sometimes wonder. When Mao is praised for China’s successes, the laurels should go to Zhou in the first place. Though adored by the masses, the Chairman has no real friends, and has always remained aloof and inscrutable. His isolation is perhaps accentuated by the fact that he, a peasant from the South, dislikes Beijing, its refinement and its northern climate, and makes no secret of his feelings. When end of June 1950 the war in Korea broke out it came as a complete surprise for all of us, even for our leaders. The Premier was closeted with some of the other leaders for hours on end, and from what transpired I learned that they were very worried. It was announced officially that South Korea had attacked the North but we soon found that the North, the People’s Republic of Korea, was the aggressor. Since that country was entirely controlled by the Soviet Union, Stalin must have approved the attack but he had failed to inform us. When the United States intervened we felt obliged to aid North Korea.
Stalin promised us assistance from the Soviet army and air force but reneged on it at the last moment. Zhou Enlai traveled to Moscow to try and change the Soviet leader’s mind but without success. When Zhou returned to Beijing he did not conceal his grave concern.
“We are not at all equipped for this war,” he said to me, “and our only chance to win it lies in our superior numbers and our contempt of death.”
My colleague Fuzhang, a specialist in Soviet affairs and Russian-speaker, had accompanied Zhou and he confirmed that the Premier was bitterly disappointed. He himself came back dejected and could find no explanation for Moscow’s negative attitude. The Korean war came at a most inopportune moment, when the young Republic had only just stabilized its power and started to build up the economy.
Nowadays I have to work most weekends and only seldom can I go for walks with my family in the Western Hills or the park of the Summer Palace. The other day we had one of those rare picnics near one of the great tombs of the Ming Emperors at some distance from the city, where the ancient ox-blood of the tall walls now stands out in clear relief against the dark-blue autumnal sky. May had joined us and not a word was spoken of politics, so we were all relaxed and able to forget the tension and restraints of daily life. She and Fanglin looked lovely, the food was superb, and we laughed a lot. This is our favourite haunt, both in autumn and even more so in the spring, when the tall, dark-red tomb stands high in the surrounding sea of white and pink blossoming fruit trees — always a breathtaking sight. Once out of Beijing one does not notice there is a war on. Complete calm reigns there and imperturbable peasants continue to till the land as they have done for centuries.
Our small son Wuling loves to potter around in the garden whenever the weather permits. Today he’s playing with his wooden blocks with which he creates a fantasy world of his own. Every now and then he looks up and smiles at me. Then he gets up with some difficulty, his split pants close, and he toddles unsteadily over to me; he offers me one of his favourite blocks which I accept with a bow and the appropriate words of thanks. Wuling has a friendly and generous nature. What will he grow up to in the new China? Since he does not belong to the workers’ proletariat nor to the poor or ‘lower middle’ peasant class, there may be hard times ahead for him when he is older, but who can tell how long the idea of ‘class struggle’ will last? I do hope this whole evil concept will be rendered out of date by then.
In my office I hear all sorts of stories about the life Mao Zedong leads in Zhongnanhai — the Chinese Kremlin. He lives in a small palace which originally was a rest-house and library of the famous Qianlong emperor and it has a large swimming-pool. In Guomindang-times this was a favourite public pool but it is now of course out of bounds for ordinary mortals. Most of the Communist leaders and their families live luxuriously in this compound but it is characteristic for Zhou Enlai’s soberness and modesty that he and his wife have established themselves in the simplest and smallest living quarters. The whole complex of buildings is surrounded by a wall; more strictly guarded than any other leader is Mao Zedong. Even Premier Zhou must first report to Mao’s bodyguards before he can see the Chairman.
I used to think that it was right for Chairman Mao to live in this place of former imperial splendour but I’m beginning to wonder whether in those surroundings he can remain the great revolutionary leader he has been.
Now that Mao has risen to such Olympic heights, there is very little contact between him and his old comrades of the Long March, I’m told; and even during that march he seems to have kept his distance. Here he leads a somewhat retired life in his ‘Study of Chrysanthemum Fragrance’ and for the outside world he remains an altogether mysterious figure who seems to possess a magical, almost divine power. He does enjoy, though, in his limited circle of Zhongnanhai, the regular Saturday night dances which were already a permanent feature in the Yenan days.
In the song- and dance-group of the central garrison corps there is apparently always a sufficient number of pretty and politically reliable young girls available for Chairman Mao. He is a lumbering dancer but these young women look up at him with admiration, surround him with flattery and vie with each other in asking him to dance. After a foxtrot or waltz he often takes his partner by the hand and disappears with her in an adjacent room where a huge bed is always at his disposal. Time flies. Another winter has come and gone, and we’ve survived the cold thanks to a sufficient supply of firewood and coal. Now it’s spring, but it never lasts long here. Unfortunately, our excursions outside the capital have become less frequent on account of my heavy work-load, just at a time when Fanglin needs them more than ever.
For something most annoying has happened which completely shattered our domestic peace and quiet. One day last week my wife called me frantically on the phone: could I please come immediately? Our compound was being invaded by a crowd of some eight families who had come with all their bedrolls, furniture, pots and pans, and were planning to stay. When I arrived, they had already installed themselves in the east and west wing of our compound and even occupied part of our house; they had transferred our furniture to two small rooms. I protested in vain.
They were quite rude and when, at my request, the representative of the residents’ committee arrived, she explained that they were workers at a newly established factory who had every right to occupy these spacious quarters. She admonished me not to be arrogant and to lay aside my capitalist vanity. These workers were the proletariat, the true revolutionaries, and my wife and I should carry their heavy things for them and cook them a meal! This we refused to do, and I’m afraid that gave us a very bad note in the cadre’s little book of sins.
We had always been subjected to spying and questioning by the neighbourhood committee’s members, some of whom had been friendly enough, but now even the little privacy we had was gone. We were dismayed, and for Fanglin in particular it soon became an intolerable burden. Even our little son who wanted to make friends with those of the newcomers, was met with hostile stares and abuse.
With their loud quarrels and blaring radios these workers’ families disturb our quiet atmosphere. They drop their garbage in our beautiful courtyard and garden and are now even brazenly sharing our kitchen where they use our pots and pans, and leave them behind with their greasy left-overs without washing up.
Their whole demeanour towards Fanglin makes it abundantly clear that they consider her a high-bred lady and therefore an enemy of the proletariat. All this gets on Fanglin’s nerves. Even she who embodies Chinese courtesy itself and can suffer a great deal in silence cannot stand it anymore:
“Paul, life becomes unbearable here. They’ve now even started to be nasty to Wuling. Can’t you lodge a complaint with the residents’ committee? It’s all so unfair. Why can’t they be at least civil to us? We don’t bother them in any way!”
When I called on the head of the residents’ committee, a surly woman who had been wash-amah with a rich family and was now a zealous party-member, I explained that too many people had settled themselves in our compound, that they seriously misbehaved and caused us great annoyance.
She sharply reproved me:
“Look at that now! On his high horse! You’d better be careful, otherwise you may well get one or two families moving in with you, for your two rooms are much too large for a small family. Or you might be turned out of your house altogether. You don’t seem to understand that the time of bourgeois exploitation is past and that the workers are now the leading class!”
This woman as well as other neighbours are always spying on us. Informers are praised or rewarded. Our ‘capitalist’, bourgeois origin is constantly thrown up against us and we are regularly forced to write self-criticisms. Even in the office, where all of us are so busy, we cannot escape the many political meetings where we must study Mao Zedong Thought and criticise ourselves. Father, too, is bothered more often now by overzealous party cadres. My father reminded me of the fact that in the third century B.C. the great statesman Lord Shang had already established a kind of residents’ committee. The people were organised into groups of fives and tens and had to spy on and denounce each other. This system which was based on distrust and hate was adopted by the Qin Emperor. It replaced that of the eight mutually responsible families which was entirely aimed at mutual aid, harmony and friendship.
He said it was an outrage that the new regime which pretends to be ‘progressive’, was reverting to old forms of oppression which had long ago been abolished. I ventured that this might be only a temporary phase through which we were passing but Father looked sceptical.
We have been following the example of the Soviet Union in various fields, such as in our programme of heavy industrialization and in education. Soviet experts have helped design and build factories, bridges and dams, and our educational system is now largely based on the Soviet model. The current slogan is: ‘The Soviet Union’s Today is Our Tomorrow!’
This gave rise to many jokes, since the Pekingese have a keen sense of humour. The story goes around that two young Chinese watched two westerners rowing a boat on the Northern Lake. It was a hot day and they had taken their shirt off. “Look,” said one of the Chinese men, “how much hair these elder brothers (a term of respect for Soviet citizens) have on their chest.” “Yes,” said his companion, “but in ten years we will have that too.”
But joking apart, China did profit from Soviet expertise and economic aid for some time, though naturally we would have liked it to be on a larger scale.
When Stalin died, in 1953, a hush fell over China. We felt suspended in mid-air, as it were, and we were all worried about the future. What would happen to the Soviet Union, which was after all our great ally in a hostile world, and how would this affect our country? Stalin’s death brought home to us that we might suddenly find ourselves without Chairman Mao who, whatever one might think of him, held the country together. As if he wanted to reassert his leadership again at this juncture, Mao severely criticized the moderates in the Party and got rid of an old, able comrade, Gao Gang, whom he considered too powerful and backed by the Soviets.
One political ‘movement’ followed another and my wife and I began to be criticised more sharply in the regular ‘thought-reform’ meetings. Everywhere tension increased. No doubt some of those campaigns were necessary to wipe out the evil remnants of the old society. In the Five Antis Campaign, the Capitalists who had been asked to stay and given assurances of good treatment, were subjected to a cruel campaign against bribery, tax evasion, and other sins. Under these general headings anyone could be accused of a crime and indeed many innocent people were victimized.
My wife’s third uncle, a successful and honest industrialist in Shanghai, was harassed and threatened by teams of communist ‘inspectors’ who knew next to nothing about business administration and accounting, but sat in his office for weeks on end, turning everything upside down and interrogating him constantly in the most hostile manner. Life became so unbearable for him that in his desperation he jumped one day from the tenth floor of his office building to end the nightmare, and he was not the only one to do so.
I have a safe job, we have a healthy son, and so we should consider ourselves fortunate. Yet we are not such a happy family anymore. It’s not only on account of the political tension. My wife’s two miscarriages and other factors such as the presence of intruders in our house and my long absences from home due to an ever increasing workload, have made Fanglin nervous and unhappy, and she is blaming me for most of her troubles. She thinks I’m not doing enough to evict the intruders who have taken over our compound but I am powerless. At night she shies away from sexual intercourse. Our relationship in that respect was never an ideal one. When we were just married she loved to be courted but seemed to have a slight aversion to the act itself. At that time I ascribed her frigidity to her old-fashioned upbringing and a fear of the unknown, later she seemed afraid of becoming pregnant again — understandably so after those miscarriages — but now I do not know what causes her almost complete estrangement. Whatever I try there is no response. I’m convinced that she has not been unfaithful to me and I also must say for her that she’s a good and devoted mother. The gulf between her political opinion (which she never voices but of which I am well aware) and my own has also widened but cannot possibly account for our differences. If I still support — though much less fervently than in the beginning — most of the policies of our Government and Party it is due in large part to my devotion to the Prime Minister and my admiration for his colossal achievements. But Fanglin’s initial reservation has turned into complete rejection and hatred of our socialist transformation. Naturally she was very upset by her uncle’s suicide; she had been particularly fond of him and his family. To her his treatment and other acts of the regime prove that Chairman Mao aims to destroy all classes above the workers and poor peasants.
In April 1954 Zhou Enlai took me with him to Geneva as the youngest secretary of a large Chinese delegation! I was beside myself with joy and excited anticipation. The People’s Republic of China was for the first time participating in a major international conference which I was to witness. Indo-China and Korea were its subjects. I had never been abroad, never attended an international conference and everything was new, intoxicating: the hustle and bustle, the urgent telegrams arriving or being dictated and sent, delegations from various nations running around and conferring in groups of two’s or three’s, the receptions, the lunches and dinners.
I was spell-bound by the riches and luxury of Geneva. Our foreign currency allowance was rather small but by being frugal I saved enough to buy a watch for Fanglin and some lovely toys for Wuling.
Since many western countries had refrained so far from ‘recognizing’ our government, knew little about us and were anxious to know how we would operate, our delegation attracted a great deal of attention and we were kept very busy.
By his attitude and action in Geneva Zhou gained world-wide fame as a great statesman and secured for our People’s Republic an important place in the concert of nations.
By chance (or was it no accident?) I met at a reception an American journalist who turned out to be a friend of Larry’s. Frank Roberts was not only entertaining and discreet but also a useful source of information. I marvelled at his American openness; I had forgotten about it, having lived in an atmosphere of secrecy for years. He had been in China before and spoke our language a little.
One day Frank told me:
“Do you know what a colleague of mine in Hong Kong witnessed recently during a trip to Taiwan? He attended a Chinese dinner-party at which some highly placed Guomindang officials were present. One of them proposed a toast to… Zhou Enlai, ‘who has scored such a great success for China in Geneva’! Everybody heartily joined in this toast.”
Zhou laughed when I told him:
“It proves again that there is only one China!”
When in February 1956 Khrushchev launched his posthumous attack on Stalin there were mixed reactions here in Peking. We were shocked that this great leader was demolished so thoroughly and without any consideration for his positive achievements, but relieved that serious mistakes and crimes were openly criticized. With new leaders in the Kremlin, however, our relations with the Soviet Union did not improve.
Already in 1955 we had received reports that in private conversations, even with westerners, Soviet officials were talking about the ‘Yellow Peril’ and the need for cooperation between the U.S.S.R. and the West against China. They also showed contempt for our experiment with socialism. Meanwhile there was growing disenchantment here with Soviet aid and doubt about the suitability of the Soviet model for China’s development.
For some time it looked as if a little more freedom of expression was going to be introduced with the slogan of ‘Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom’. But I learned from a reliable source that it was probably a trap to find out who were opposed to the regime. I warned Father.
And now we are indeed jolted by another violent political campaign. What is all the turmoil about this time? Suddenly the newspapers are writing that ‘bourgeois rightists’ are launching ‘wild attacks’ both within and outside the Party. Harsh measures are being taken. Posters go up everywhere accusing those who have dared to criticize the regime, of being not only ‘rightists’ but ‘traitors’ and ‘enemies’.
This is called the Anti-Rightist Campaign, which is directed against the intellectuals who, deceived by the slogan of the ‘Hundred Flowers’, had criticized Party officials. All of the critics were arrested and even many who had kept silent. False accusations abound.
We are ourselves under a dark cloud now and live in fear. Fanglin and I know that our home may be raided at any moment. We daily hear of friends and acquaintances having been arrested.
When I tried several times to ring my father there was no answer. A grave sign for he had a bad cold and was not going out, he had told me. I thought I’d go and have a look but just when I was putting on my overcoat, the phone rang.
My hand trembled when I took up the receiver and heard the frightened voice of old Zhang, the faithful servant who had stayed with my parents.
“I only have a few minutes before I have to hang up,” he said. Then he told me that ‘they’ had come, locked my parents up and put up posters outside accusing my father of being a black rightist element and an enemy of the people. Father and Mother were held incommunicado, their telephone line was cut and the house surrounded and guarded.
It was a terrible shock, and I received another shock when I told Zhou Enlai about my father’s fate and asked, in an indirect way, if he could help. All he said was, “These events must run their course, and it would be wrong to try and interfere.”
When I went to my parents’ house, the security guards would not let me in or accept a parcel for them. We are extremely worried. How are they treated? Will they have enough food? How will all this end? After a week of pleading we were allowed to send a food parcel, but a little later we were told this was not necessary any more! My heart stood still, Had they died?
Thank God, they hadn’t, but what I was told sounded almost like a death-warrant: they had been sent to the countryside for ‘re-education’. We know what that means: all sorts of hardships and humiliations in a cold climate with insufficient food and no heating, and they are both over sixty. May and I have been making frantic efforts to find out where they are, but in vain.
Many others suffered the same fate as my parents, or worse. Even Second Uncle Sun Hanzhang, an old Party member, of whom May was very fond, vanished without a trace. When he was reported missing to the police, they professed to know nothing, but after an extensive search he was found to have been imprisoned as a … rightist. He, a veteran communist who had been an ‘outside cadre’ and secretly rendered the Party important services when he was working in the U.S. Office of War Information and thereafter as editor of an influential newspaper! Now he’s been accused of having been ‘too close’ to the imperialists. Second Uncle is as honest and fine a man as my father, but he is a believer, an opinionated Marxist and a blind follower of Chairman Mao.
It is clear that the Hundred Flowers movement was the most cynical deceit imaginable. As soon as the names were known of those who were critical of the regime, the hundred flowers were mowed down by the mighty scythe of the Communist Party and police.
But Second Uncle does not see it that way. May and I were allowed to visit him in prison and he, faithfully toeing the Party line, spoke of ‘bourgeois demons and devils’ and of ‘poisonous weeds’ which had to be wiped out. He was constantly studying Mao’s works, as if he did not already know the most important parts by heart, and admonished us to do likewise. This distinguished journalist was scrubbing floors and cleaning lavatories, collecting excrement to fertilize a vegetable patch in the prison garden, and constantly writing Thought Reports and self-criticisms in which he confessed his mistakes and deviations. The Party was always right, he told us. Second Uncle had not lost his faith in Communism and probably never would. He was leading a miserable existence and was tortured by feelings of guilt which were probably relieved somewhat by his ‘confessions’.
Then we were lucky. From a friend at Beida I learned what my father had been accused of: one of his students who had failed his exams had written an anti-Party text and signed it with a forgery of my father’s signature! I laid this case and a few other unjustified accusations before Prime Minister Zhou, hoping that he could obtain Father’s release.
Thank Heaven, it worked. Soon after, Father came home, after six months of heavy labour. We hardly recognized him at first: a skeleton, a deeply lined face and trembling hands. He looked ten years older but would not speak of the physical hardship and mental torments he had undergone.
Yet how wonderful it is to have him back and how grateful we are for the Premier’s intervention! Yuxin, May, Fanglin and I are doing everything we can to spoil him, and he is beginning to regain some of his old strength and interest in things; he’s even started making jokes.
Many of my friends have been maltreated. Nor have I gone completely scot-free: in my work-unit and in the residents’ committee they have accused me of being the ‘son of a black rightist’ (strangely, these zealous communists seemed to think in terms of hereditary titles), of being guilty of a bourgeois life-style, etc. After writing a lengthy self-criticism I have for the time being been left in peace.
May and I have a permanent dinner appointment once every fortnight in a small restaurant not far from her office. There we can quietly exchange views about personal as well as political matters without Fanglin being present who is too bitter about everything the Party does. I also prefer to discuss things with my sister without Lihua, that cow with her slavish and devoted look who still lives in with May and her son.
During these discussions we can of course speak freely but I’m aware that May who has become an ardent Communist, is doing her best to restrain herself in my presence and that I check my criticism of the Party out of respect for her convictions.
She was already there when I came in, studying the menu which we knew by heart. She looked lovely and I said so, but she laughingly waved my ‘bourgeois’ compliments aside. We made our choice and when the waiter was gone she asked how Father, whom she hadn’t seen for some days, was doing.
“He’s visibly getting better every day. If we had not laid hands on that evidence of a false accusation, he’d never have returned alive from the so-called ‘reform-through-labour’ camp.”
She nodded emphatically. “Yes, I’m terribly happy that he’s recovering. They did him a great injustice. But why did you say ‘so-called’? Do you think the Party doesn’t have good reason to launch this rectification campaign?”
“Look, I’ve admired the reforms the Party has brought about but there are also many things happening which are less favourable for our country.”
“Such as?” She looked attentively at me, not without sympathy but with a sharpness in her beautiful eyes which always appeared there when her principles were at issue.
“All those ideological mass campaigns, one after another, all that fanaticism, isn’t that too much of a good thing? To name only a few: the cruel ‘Three and Five Antis’ movement, the unbearable, endless ‘Thought Reform’ and the treacherous ‘Hundred Flowers’ followed by the ‘Anti-Rightist Rectification Campaign’ which unjustly attacks the intellectuals.”
May was about to interrupt me but I silenced her with a gesture and went on:
“That’s not all. This latest campaign I find frankly outrageous. Those laogai camps, they’re not really meant for reform, are they? Think of what they did to Father and he’s not the only one.
“Very little is done with love nowadays; they call it class struggle but anger and hatred are the passwords. Peace and harmony, always so highly valued in our country, are gone. Don’t you find it alarming?”
For a few moments May did not reply. Then she remarked ironically:
“Too much of a good thing, you said! You’ve such a delightful way of making down-to-earth comments, Paul. But these are not times for putting things into perspective and carefully studying all the different aspects of a situation. On the contrary, what is at stake now are absolute values.”
A young couple at another table looked up. May frowned and continued in lower tones:
“Do I find it alarming? Certainly not. All this is necessary to shake the Chinese colossus out of its former stupor and lethargy. It’s got to be done! You only point out the negative aspects which are of course not lacking. Too much of a good thing? You seem to forget that all these campaigns cover different issues, each of which needs to be reformed.”
“Even if that were true, it should be done in a just and meaningful manner,” I countered. “Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people have died as a result of these campaigns and reforms. That shouldn’t be their purpose, should it?”
“No, of course not,” she admitted. “But you exaggerate and in any case you mustn’t forget that this is a revolution such as the world has not yet seen. In a revolution there will always be victims. Don’t think only of those but also of the tremendous changes that have come in the countryside and in the cities. It’s a time of rebirth and of a new, formidable challenge.”
These were the standard communist arguments and I had heard them so often before. Was even my clever sister wearing blinkers? She had become a true believer but I still hoped she had not lost all sense of reality.
“Look, May, I also admire the achievements of the first eight years since Liberation. It is precisely for that reason that I would deplore it if all those things should be made undone. Our country is doing very well right now, thanks largely to Zhou Enlai, but these continuous upheavals are not what we need for our economy, for our socialist construction. Whatever has come over Chairman Mao?”
Our discussion was interrupted for a moment when the fish in sweet-sour sauce, pieces of duck braised in ginger and slices of roasted pork were served. I realised that this meal was proof, if proof were needed, of the fact that China had for many years not been so well off materially. We toasted each other with a cup of warm, yellow rice-wine.
“Try to see the whole thing as a dragon dance, Paul. The Dance of the Chinese Dragon, isn’t it a sublime expression of power and joy? It wildly twists and turns up and down, left and right, and leaves the spectators awed and breathless. We’ve often discussed the fact that our society has long been stagnant and immobile. Don’t you agree that a political and economic ‘dragon dance’ is needed to achieve a decisive breakthrough? That is what Chairman Mao wants.”
“You always know so well how to formulate your arguments, May. You may possibly be right in the long term, but I still find the methods difficult to accept. The image you have evoked is indeed striking. In his long history the Chinese dragon has made many wriggles and twists but now in a very short period probably more than ever before in a century. Its present pace cannot be good for our political and economic development.”
“And you are forever the cautious diplomat and economist, too cautious in fact. Who was it who said that you cannot leap across a precipice in two jumps? Well, China has to make a giant leap. We can’t afford to take the road of a measured, social-democratic evolution such as Father would advocate. We should never get out of the morass. The traditions press too heavily upon us, they’re almost ineradicable, and we are too far behind the rest of the world. We’re in a hurry, we must not lose the momentum. Chairman Mao sees that very clearly.”
“Maybe, but if we have to make haste at all, let’s at least avoid stumbling. Is Chairman Mao losing his grip? I do fear that his plans, however grandiose his vision may be, will prove to be too ambitious to be put into practice and I therefore hope that he will give up his utopian ideas and return to reality.”
“Who are you, damn it,” she retorted angrily, “to speak in this way about Chairman Mao?” She had raised her voice but quickly lowered it. “Your knowledge and experience are at best a thousandth, perhaps only a millionth part of his. I totally disagree with you. I believe in Chairman Mao’s ideas and methods.”
Soup was served.
“Alright,” said May in a calmer tone, “let’s first round off our meal before we continue this discussion.”
It annoyed me that my sister, ever since she had joined the Party, sometimes used language which she, as a well-bred Chinese girl, would never have dreamed of using in the old days. Perhaps it was part of the new assertiveness which she and many other young women had adopted. Whatever it was, I still loved and admired her.
We ate in silence but after dinner, over a glass of fragrant jasmine tea, we talked on for a while. Her total trust in Mao Zedong was beginning to irk me, and so I couldn’t help reverting to him:
“You know, May, I myself have admired Chairman Mao greatly. But what’s going on now? That ghastly personality cult: the ubiquitous gigantic statues and portraits, his writings represented as a kind of holy script, an absolute truth. And he expects the people to make inhuman efforts, he demands far too much from them.”
May’s reaction was heated:
“We’ve always understood each other quite well, Paul, but now I don’t follow you at all. Chairman Mao is such a unique leader that I can’t stand all this criticism of him. Personality cult? Yes, the people spontaneously want to show how much they revere him. I’m not at all sure that he wants it himself but he’s too kind-hearted to disappoint the masses. Demanding too much from the people? He knows the peasants better than you and I.”
“I’m sure he does, but he went so far as saying that all wisdom comes from the masses and that it’s the intellectuals who are the most ignorant. Does he want to reduce all Chinese to the level of the illiterate peasant masses?”
May sighed. “Oh come on, Paul, you know that isn’t true. What the Chairman means is that the scholars do not understand what our country needs. Throughout the centuries our intellectuals have identified themselves with the state and the political system. It’s only natural that the leaders now want to make certain of having their support.”
We were silent for a while. The waiter came with the bill and when we stood up to go, May said:
“I’ll send you some articles which a colleague of mine recently wrote about working in the countryside. You’ll discover that the peasants possess more wisdom than you credit them with. I wish you’d approach all these matters from a more positive angle.”
I had talked about politics more than was usual at our dinners but I felt the need to let off steam. Nowadays you could not speak your mind except to your closest relatives, there was always a risk of being denounced.
* * * *
Somehow, I don’t quite know how, Fanglin and I have grown still further apart, and she continues to turn me her back. I’m even beginning to wonder whether the failure of our sexual relationship could be my fault, a result of pre-marital inexperience perhaps. If only I could prove myself. But with all women nowadays wearing close-clipped hair and drab, blue boiler-suits, one is seldom tempted to flirt with any of them and it’s easier for a man to lead a monk’s life than it used to be. However, there are times when I cannot bear it, when I burn with the desire to hold someone in my arms.
Then, one day, I met Languan at an office-party. The girl did not interest me at first, though she had a certain amount of charm which, I think, struck me particularly because of the contrast with her awful attire. But it was only when I saw her eyes shine, and noticed her elegant movements and slender hands that I longed for her touch.
I got bold and whispered: “Can we meet somewhere?” and she said surprisingly: “My office is around the corner.”
What would I do in her office? But when I left the party, I waited downstairs in a corridor and she soon came. I followed her at a distance and she beckoned me inside. She worked in one of the smaller state trading companies of which she had a key. It was a dusty, most unattractive room with a desk, typewriter and office-chair. A large couch which, she said, had been left behind by the previous occupant, was the only piece of furniture we could use. The setting was not romantic, but in this prudish society, where privacy — never easily obtained in China — has been successfully wiped out, it is uncommonly difficult and hazardous to have an affair.
She responded to my caresses and we made love under a big poster of Chairman Mao. It was a wonderful experience, as if a heavy load had fallen from my shoulders; I hadn’t realized it had been so heavy. I suddenly felt like singing and dancing: I had not been a failure!
Languan has a rather plain, round face with high cheekbones, which becomes charming when she smiles. Her eyes are bright, her mouth sensuous and her white teeth perfectly even. She is well-shaped, her skin is soft and she is just as hungry for love as I am. A friend of mine believes that the smaller a girl’s mouth, the smaller (and more desirable) her sexual parts. But I like a large, generous mouth, and I soon found out that his theory didn’t apply to her anyway.
We saw each other regularly and the danger of being discovered — we could go to prison for that or would at least be severely ostracized and lose our jobs — further spiced the secret bond which developed between us. I didn’t feel guilty towards Fanglin; in my heart I knew that this arrangement would suit her better than if I imposed myself on her, as long as she did not know about it and her pride was not hurt.
Languan and I had known each other only three months, when one day she did not appear at our secret rendezvous. Nor did she come the next day and the next. I got very worried. Then, when I met one of her colleagues and asked casually how Languan was doing, she gasped and whispered:
“Haven’t you heard? She’s been arrested as an ‘enemy of the people’”.
I felt a cold chill and mumbled something about being sorry. When I was alone, I grieved for this poor girl of whom I had grown very fond, or more than that: I loved her, I supposed. What terrible fate awaited her? In my distress I cautiously tried to find out what she had been accused of, hoping that I might help her in one way or another, but I got no clue and no one knew where she had been taken. Then I came to my senses: I was in great danger myself! If our liaison had been detected before this happened, that would have been bad enough, but if it came out now that I had been close to an ‘enemy of the people’, that would be fatal, not only for myself but for my family. The thought frightened me. I abandoned all efforts to find her.1
It was only after the ‘Hundred Flowers’ campaign of 1957 and the subsequent Anti-Rightist movement were over, that I discovered some of the motives that had led to them. Chairman Mao had been very upset by Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin; the popular risings in Poland and Hungary against the communist regimes had frightened him. Hence the Party purge and the persecution of the intellectuals whom he had always considered his enemies.
Since Mao Zedong’s visit to Moscow in 1967, where he attended an international conference celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the October Revolution, he shows himself increasingly critical of his Soviet allies. I would applaud it — and so would many others — if he could lead China towards a better future by doing away with Soviet ideology and practice. But he would have to reverse some of his own radical policies, and I doubt that he will do so.
In Khrushchev’s speech which accused Stalin of a great many misdeeds not a word is said about the contribution of this great leader to the building of socialism, nor even about the victory he won for his country in the Second World War! But I was above all shocked by the realisation that this vilification of Stalin would have an adverse effect on the Communist world movement and… on my own position of leadership.
And indeed, the trouble started already during the Eighth Party Congress in September 1956: from now on, it was decided, there would only be collective leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, there would be no personality cult, and ‘Mao Zedong Thought’ would not even serve as a guide-line for the nation anymore.
They had the nerve to do this to me. To the only man who had known how the Chinese revolution should be fought, who laid the ideological foundation for the new China, who led the Chinese Communist Party to victory!
I must manoeuvre carefully and adroitly to secure my position, as I did during the revolution in the countryside, the Long March, and the days in Yenan. How much simpler everything was then. We were fighting a war and I was obeyed. When we marched into the cities, I was daunted by the new complex tasks that awaited us and I even hesitated to establish myself in Beijing where mighty, illustrious Emperors had reigned from their grand palaces.
Since that memorable day, the first of October 1949, when I proclaimed the People’s Republic of China from the Gate of Heavenly Peace, much has gone wrong. When we had to rule the great cities, I and many of my comrades felt unsure vis-à-vis the sophisticated urban bourgeoisie and intellectuals but I needed them. As soon as we could do without these people I had them persecuted. My peasant boys, the soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army, and the party cadres were all incorruptible and dedicated men and women at first but at the Party-top vanity, deceit and corruption soon set in and gradually spread to the lower ranks.
The government and party centre Zhongnanhai has become a nest of flatterers, hypocrites and schemers. I myself have also changed. In my imperial palace I could but take over the role of my predecessors, a role which brings with it unlimited power, many enjoyments and also great risks. There have been times when I longed to be back in the dusty loess caves of Yenan.
The Guomindang, intimidated by the ubiquitous monuments of the imperial heritage, did not find the courage to establish their capital in Beijing. We did, but was it the right decision?
I often have the feeling that those august Emperors of old are critical of me and constantly breathing down my neck, and that the plotters, schemers and murderers about whom I have read in the historical Annals, still roam these palaces. I often flee Peking to find quiet and warmth in Hangzhou, Wuhan or Guangzhou.
How can I reassert my leadership in this immense Empire after the indignity put upon me at the Eighth Party Congress? I shall have to revert to the well-tried methods of Yenan times: mobilization of the masses. Yes, that’s what I’ll do. I shall stir them up to unprecedented efforts. The Chinese people have experienced one political campaign after another but that is nothing in comparison with what awaits them. There will be an unheard-of acceleration of the collectivization of agriculture and of the process of industrialization.
Our country will make a giant leap forward which will assure me of absolute power and raise me high above the Soviet leaders! For a long time already I have known that I must continuously shake and rouse the six hundred million inhabitants of this country. After my visit to Moscow in November 1957 this conviction has been further reinforced. I was shocked by the complacency and stagnation which I found in the Soviet Union. The Russians have left the revolution so far behind that it has been completely ossified. A revolution must be revived all the time, otherwise it will die.
In Moscow, during that festive conference of all the party-leaders of the socialist camp, celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the Soviet Union, I let a few stinking farts which scared all those worried cowards: Khrushchev, Gomulka, Togliatti, and all others. I told them that the U.S. is only a paper tiger, that we don’t have to be afraid of nuclear war. Even if many millions of people should be killed in such a war, we would just fuck away and produce new millions. The socialist camp would always be victorious. Everyone was deeply shocked. What kind of Communists are they?
My theses that ‘the East wind now prevails over the West wind’ and that Communism can only triumph through class struggle and armed confrontation, never by peaceful means, were unanimously adopted after considerable pressure by our delegation. My stay in the Soviet Union has reaffirmed my belief that we need not fear the Russians and that their new leader Khrushchev is not a great man and can be manipulated.
But here at home danger lurks. They are aiming at me, I know it. There exists a strong conservative opposition in the Party, notably among the leadership, against my plans for a Chinese speedway to socialism. When I launched the ‘Hundred Flowers’ drive, it was not the flowers I was interested in but where the poisonous weeds were hidden. It was a successful campaign, only there were more critics than I had expected. The gullible simpletons had really believed that they could speak freely; they had not yet learned that anyone who turns against the Party is declared a class enemy. Everywhere in China they are now being rounded up and liquidated or put to work, all of those rightist counter-revolutionary elements. And this, of course, is only a preamble to further campaigns.
Our party bureaucracy shows a deplorable lack of daring and revolutionary fire. The older party cadres fail to understand that all wisdom comes from the masses; they let themselves be intimidated by the intellectuals — economists and technocrats — who think they know everything but are in reality ignorant people who belong to the bourgeoisie — the class enemy. Many of these party cadres still respect the old and do not dare to tackle the new — like the Confucian scholars who were, quite rightly, liquidated by the First Emperor. Only the young who have had no education are not afraid of radical change.
It is also wrong to follow the Soviet Union blindly. In the beginning we needed Soviet aid and know-how, but not everything that came from there was good for us.
“In fifteen years we can overtake Great Britain,” I assured the conservatives and I threatened that those who put the brakes on the pursuit of our revolutionary aims, will be unmasked as rightists and enemies of the proletariat. The idea of the Great Leap Forward has now electrified the whole nation. Everywhere in our enormous country people are doubling and redoubling their efforts. In every region steel will be produced in such quantities that our industrial output will soar to unimaginable heights. In the canteens of the agricultural people’s communes the peasants will be able to eat as much as they want for free. All this is possible through the total mobilization of hundreds of millions. A new spirit is sweeping through the country.
In my long sleepless nights, however, an awesome fear often grips me by the throat, a fear of losing power, of plots being hatched against me, of death. All those leaders who kowtow to me and praise me to high heaven, are they not secretly conspiring against me? Throughout the ages of our long history there have always been ambitious men who killed their Emperor.
And right now I am in Chengdu, in the province of Sichuan. Here, more than anywhere else, I must be on my guard. This province has been known for its frequent revolts against the central government. I do not trust the Sichuanese at all. This beautiful swimming-pool for example, which they built near my villa, what is the matter with it? There is a strange smell in the air. When I had my secretary and my personal doctor swim there they suffered no injurious effects. Yet I am convinced that it is poisoned. They have it in for me.
No doubt official proclamations have already been prepared in which the Central Committee announces with profound sorrow the sudden demise of the Great Helmsman, Chairman Mao, and makes known the name of my successor. No, this place is too dangerous, we must leave here as soon as possible: better today than tomorrow. Back to Beijing! Immediately, since my plane is always held in readiness.
That same day we arrived in Beijing, from where I travelled with my staff and Jiang Qing to Beidaihe, the seaside resort where it was cooler and I could swim in the sea.
Khrushchev came on a visit to Beijing to explain a Soviet proposal which had angered us. To humiliate him I did not meet him at the airport nor did I politely welcome him at the palace entrance. Instead, knowing that he cannot swim, I had him taken to the pool where I received him in swimming-trunks. He felt thoroughly made a fool of when in front of everyone he drifted about with a heavy life-belt, while I swam along with powerful strokes.
The scheme he propounded was absolutely unacceptable; it would give them complete power over us. In short, Khrushchev proposed that the Soviet Union would form with China a joint Pacific fleet under Soviet command. They also wanted to set up long-range wireless stations in China which they were to operate and control themselves. The Russians were prepared to protect us against an attack, including a nuclear one, but we had to promise not to take any action against Taiwan. It is clear that they want to tie our hands in their efforts to be on good terms with the United States.
A joint navy?, I told him, that would be fine, but with your ships and under our command. Also long-range wireless facilities can be provided, but under Chinese command and with your equipment and technological know-how. As to Taiwan, I said, that’s none of your damned business, it is an internal Chinese matter. On that front you can be sure that we’re going to be active.
Khrushchev explained that the NATO countries also had a joint navy and all sorts of facilities under American command. We were allies too, why couldn’t we have such an arrangement? I asked him how he dared compare the mighty People’s Republic of China with countries like Denmark, and told him he could go to hell. He even had the nerve to criticize our extremely fast collectivization of agriculture, notably the people’s communes, and to ridicule our steel production. The man had intended to stay a week but after three days he was gone.
This summer of 1958 promises to yield an abundant harvest. During an inspection tour I saw the peasants toiling everywhere with great zeal and enthusiasm. They have formed people’s communes, immense collective agricultural enterprises, and everyone is excited and full of optimism. If some of those cautious economic planners at the top should still wish to oppose this speedway to socialism, then they have come too late. Fantastic, unprecedented production figures of steel and grain are being reported from all over the country. The masses can do it, nothing is impossible for them!
It is true that in November 1958 some shortcomings were reported in connection with the Great Leap, such as highly exaggerated production figures, lack of means of transportation, etc. The blame for this rests, of course, on the higher party cadres who have exerted pressure on those under them to produce high, much too high figures.
Later, when visiting Wuhan in the summer of 1959, I myself observed that there was famine in the country. I should lose face if I publicly admitted that the Great Leap Forward has not become a complete success; anyway it has only failed in purely economic terms. For in political terms it has been a gigantic, unheard-of mobilization of the masses, an unequalled exercise and lesson for our march on the road to socialism. Never before in history have people worked so massively and enthusiastically for that purpose. If in the course of it some twenty, thirty or forty million people have perished, as is now being claimed, that is not of great consequence. The only thing that counts is the political aim such as I have formulated it; the masses have again proved to me that they will always do what I demand of them, however heavily it may bear upon them. No other ‘leader’ is capable of this.
At a meeting of the enlarged Politburo in the cool mountain resort of Lushan I have therefore praised the energy and creativity of the masses and concluded that the general situation was excellent and the future bright.
But then a serious event occurred. I recognised immediately that I found myself in the middle of an existential crisis which could only end in two ways: in my fall as a political leader or in the destruction of my enemies.
The Minister of Defence General Peng Dehuai sent me a letter which made me lie awake all night. In it he first praised the achievements of the Great Leap, but only as a preamble to the sharpest criticism: it had, according to him, done more harm than good. To say such a thing when it was known that the Great Leap was wholly my idea, my responsibility, and that I still believed in it! If I should allow the Leap to be thus censured the critics would be all over me.
I called a meeting of the Permanent Committee of the Politburo and declared that now not only rightist elements from outside the Party were levelling accusations against us but also from the inside, even from Peng Dehuai. If the party should split in two, I said threateningly, I would organise a new one among the peasants. Then I had a copy of Peng’s letter distributed to the participants so they could discuss it in small group meetings in which I did not myself participate. While I remained behind the scenes, their reports showed me who supported Peng: only a few did, the majority did not dare.
Finally, in a plenary session, I proceeded to the definitive attack. I classified the critics in the Party as rightist, counter-revolutionary elements. Again I pointed out that we had learned many important lessons and made great progress. Those who denied this were not Communists.
Peng Dehuai and his followers, I said, were ‘rightist opportunists’, who had formed an anti-Party group. I concluded that we were confronted with a life-and-death class struggle which had been going on for many years. Peng and his aides clearly belonged to the bourgeoisie and had always been enemies of the proletariat. None of the highest leaders, whether Liu Shaoqi or Zhou Enlai, had the courage to defend Peng.
So I had suppressed the insurrection and won a crucial battle. But I knew that my leadership had been in jeopardy and that I would continue to be the object of opposition and criticism in the higher echelons of the Party, even though they had for the time being been silenced.
In light of the economic difficulties I’ve made a tactical move. The Central Committee has accepted my proposal that I resign as President of the Republic. It gives me a chance to withdraw from the responsibility for the economic development, to devote myself completely, as Chairman of the Party, to party ideology, to give guidance behind the scenes, test the loyalty of the other leaders, and free myself from all ceremonies and obligations imposed by protocol. Whatever goes wrong now, I can blame it on the government.
Yet all these events have put me in a sombre mood and have been bad for my health. I’ve remained in bed for weeks, reading or playing love-games with a number of young women. During my frequent train-trips I continue these activities; there too I am provided with all that I need.
But between Hangzhou and Wuhan something happened that made me fly into a rage. I was deeply shocked when by sheer coincidence it was discovered that my private train and, as was to be established later, my private aircraft and my villas had been fitted with secret bugging devices. For years everything I and my interlocutors have said has been recorded on tapes which were sent to the Party centre in Beijing. I was livid and put an end to this practice immediately. My talks with regional party leaders and military commanders must on no account be made known to the leaders in the centre, for in this roundabout way I have often been able to put pressure on them or confront them with accomplished facts.
So they have spied on me all this time. They are probably gathering material to be used against me, to liquidate or blacken me, as Khrushchev has done with Stalin. There is nobody, absolutely nobody whom I can trust. I am being waylaid from all quarters.
Hong Kong, 1957-59
Ruth and I looked excitedly through the window when the big silver bird had begun its descent and swung round over the harbour of Hong Kong. All the familiar places came into sight: the Peak and the city on Victoria Island with its millions of inhabitants and towering buildings (more and higher than before), the large stretch of Kowloon and the New Territories, and behind them, in the distance, the mountains of that mysterious country with its vast population, ‘Red China’, which for eight years already has been closed to us Americans and most other Westerners.
I had met Ruth in Washington and fallen for her large, shining brown eyes, her slender, elegant figure, easy manner and sense of humour. We didn’t wait long and got married. The memory of May soon faded away. Life in Washington was allright but I had been happy to go back East after a year and a half at the State Department. Though Ruth had travelled widely, she had never been in Asia and this was her first foreign posting. She would make a perfect diplomatic hostess, I thought and I was proved right.
Ruth had heard so much about Peking from me that she would love to go there, but that was, of course, out of the question. We flew low over the city and could almost distinguish the house on Macdonnell Road where we had spent two happy years.
“It wasn’t only because of Hong Kong, Larry,” Ruth remarked. “I was lucky to have such a cheerful husband, even-tempered and never complaining about his work-load which was quite heavy at the time, remember?”
“Yes, I liked the work and you were the best thing that ever happened to me. You never complained either.”
“I enjoyed my women’s club, playing tennis and swimming at the Ladies’ Recreation Club, entertaining guests and going out.”
Yes, Ruth had been happy, but one day I had seen the pain in her face when there were young mothers about with children she could not have herself. We never discussed it but I too would have loved to have kids.
We were both eager to be back. Some of my former colleagues, such as Howie and Sandy had left, but I knew their successors fairly well — that was the advantage of belonging to a small group of sinologists. And the large staff of Chinese translators would still be there.
“Hi Ruth, hi Larry! Good to see you again!” John called out. We were quickly whisked through Passport Control and Customs, had our luggage loaded into the station-waggon of the Consulate — the chauffeur Ah Wong was still there, he touched his cap and we shook hands with him — and then got into John’s car.
“You are, of course, dying to know where you will live?”
“Naturally we’re terribly curious. Even at the last moment they could not tell us in Washington which house it would be. Where is it?”
“Just wait, it’s a surprise.”
We drove up Garden Road and John pointed to our new office which had been moved there from the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank building, then followed Peak Road until we came to Mount Kellett, where we turned into a small road going down some three hundred yards. Here we faced a large mansion which had a free view over the Chinese Sea as far as the island of Lantao.
“The whole of the ground floor and the garden are yours,” John said. “On the first floor lives an English couple who have a separate entrance.”
It was a beautiful place and we danced with joy and excitement, but soon stood still and watched the magnificent setting of the sun, a riot of colours fanning out over sky and sea. It was a moving sight.
“You know the great advantage of this location,” John. always practical, remarked. “There’s a lovely cool air at this altitude, and you are free of the fog which hangs so often higher up on the Peak.”
“Oh, this really is fantastic! I still can’t believe it,” Ruth exclaimed and went through the house which was partly furnished by the Government, to find out how she could further arrange it.
“By the way, Ruth, tomorrow a boy, a cook and an amah, all recommended by friends, will present themselves. You may want to take them on probation; anyway they have good testimonials.”
“Goodness, you’ve certainly taken good care of us, I’m speechless,” Ruth said while I gave John a grateful stump.
“Well Larry, we don’t do this for everybody, certainly not for some of those stuck-up, fastidious diplomats, who are always finding fault. Sinologist-colleagues, friends, that’s a different matter.”
John produced a bottle from an ice-bag and glasses he had brought, and poured champagne: “Zhu nin jian-kang, Your health! This widow — Veuve Cliquot — tastes still good and I hope you’ll like it as a starter. You will, of course, dine with Helen and me tonight, whether you like it or not. I’ll now leave you to your bath.”
In the office of the Consulate-General I was received most cordially the next morning. My boss was an affable career diplomat of the old school; I knew right away that it would be pleasant to serve under him. The staff had been further enlarged since I had been there last. Many able Chinese translators prepared daily English translations of radio newscasts which were caught by special, powerful receiving-stations, and of news items and articles that appeared in the Chinese press.
A few western sinologists had formed, some years earlier, a small study group which met regularly to exchange facts and views on the situation in the People’s Republic; the group still existed and I was now invited to join it.
* * * *
I’ve been an intensive ‘China-watcher’ in Hong Kong for a year and a half now, but what wouldn’t I give to be allowed to visit China again and see for myself all the changes that have taken place there!
Ruth, on the contrary, is getting fed up with Hong Kong and the Chinese situation and begins to talk about a post in Europe or Latin America. She still is, as could be expected, a perfect hostess, but constantly wants to give dinners and lunches — like her mother, a rich ‘socialite’ in New York — for people who may be important but don’t interest me. However, I let her have her way since she obviously cannot do without.
The fortnightly meetings of the China study-group are never dull and very useful. We always have a lot to discuss. Some of our colleagues are prone to see every development in Mainland China as bad and harmful, others like myself take a more differentiated view. I’m convinced anyway that you can’t judge what is happening there solely through reading the papers and listening to the radio. Those who can also visit the country will, of course, get a more balanced and realistic picture, unless you belong to that large group of sympathizers who swallow everything they are told by Communist officials and return with glorious reports about Mao’s paradise. “What for Heaven’s sake is going on in China now?”, I started our latest discussion at our French friend David Garrida’s house. “The ‘anti-rightist campaign’ has eliminated many of the scholars and teachers whom China badly needs. And the forced formation of immense people’s communes where peasants are treated as factory-workers, isn’t that asking for trouble?”
David, who had also been in China before, chuckled:
“It all sounds extremely un-Chinese, doesn’t it? Communes where they eat in large canteens and the food is ladled out into their bowls from communal soup-kitchens; where men and women sleep in separate dormitories; and where not even the smallest amount of private income or property is allowed.”
“Exactly,” I agreed, “and now there’s that ‘Great Leap Forward’, what are we to make of that? Are they preparing their own destruction?”
We were standing on the terrace with a cold drink in our hands, looking down on the beautiful harbour with its many ships, Chinese junks and ferries, packed full with passengers, crossing to and fro. Over the mountain-tops hung a light veil of haze.
“I don’t want you to think that I wish to contribute to the personality cult of the great Chairman Mao,” our French host remarked, “but there are many indications that all of these wild ideas have sprung from the brain of Mao Zedong himself. It’s questionable whether the other leaders agree with him. Nevertheless the fact remains that Mao always succeeds in rousing the whole population to frantic efforts.”
“Yes, I think David touches upon an important aspect here,” our British friend Richard tuned in. “Mao has made it clear that he wants to give up the Soviet model, he’s bragged that China can attain socialism much faster if it follows its own way, and now he reverts to his favourite method of mobilizing the masses. But that’s not the way, of course, to build a modern industry. The insanely high goals that Mao has set for the production of steel and grain will in any case never be met.”
Our learned and witty German colleague Herbert produced some interesting historical parallels, referring inter alia to the Qin Emperor of the third century B.C. After an extensive further exchange of news and views we were about to leave when David looked at his watch and said:
“Don’t go yet, for I’ve got a surprise for you. He’ll be here any moment, Hank has gone to meet him. Guess who it is.”
Meanwhile he took a bottle of a very special brand of whiskey from his cabinet. Various names were mentioned until David announced that he was an ex-member and one of the founders of the group. Howie?, someone asked.
“No, Carl. He’s now stationed in Paris, as you all know, but he’s managed to make a private trip to China and is bringing us the latest news from there.”
“Well, the latest news? I don’t have more than you, you know,” these words came from the hall where Carl and Hank had just come in. The doorbell had not been rung, for Ah Lin had waited for them at the entrance.
It was a joyful reunion. Our Dutch friend took a long draught of the malt whiskey:
“After gallons of warm rice-wine and mao-tai this is pure nectar.”
“I’d give anything if I could visit Peking,” I said, “all of my best wines, and the whiskey too.”
After an exchange of the usual pleasantries we all asked our visitor about his impressions of China.
“They’re now going through an altogether anti-Russian phase, as you will know,” Carl remarked, “and in China you find this confirmed in all sorts of ways. The only Soviet leader whose portraits are still on display, is Stalin. Before, on train-journeys through China, I was respectfully addressed as ‘elder brother’ (lao da-ge); it was assumed that I came from the Soviet Union. Nowadays a cool ‘Soviet citizen’ (Sulian ren) will do, and sometimes even a word of abuse. The Chinese comrades have no good word to say for Khrushchev.
“A joke is circulating,” Carl related, “about a Soviet citizen who was sentenced (in Russia, of course) to ten years and three days imprisonment for having called Khrushchev an idiot. Question: ‘How come, that curious sentence of ten years and three days?’ Answer: ‘Three days for insulting the Soviet leader and ten years for revealing a state secret.’”
“But on the whole,” Carl went on, “the Chinese have little time for what goes on abroad, as all their attention is focussed on themselves and their own development, their ‘Great Leap Forward’. Everywhere you go, smoke is seen rising out of the funniest little ovens and every metal object is deemed suitable for melting, including indispensable utensils: pots and pans, and in the cities even central heating radiators. They compete with each other, poor things, to achieve greater results.”
He sighed and lit a fresh cigarette.
“Passing through the countryside I saw peasants in the military formation of companies and regiments, drums beating and flags flying, march to their work-place. A Chinese train companion told me proudly that they now work twelve hours a day or even more, and often during the night as well. In the early phase of the ‘Great Leap’ there had been, one is told, a near-hysterical frenzy and a general euphoria, but now it’s obvious that they’re all dead-tired. Their enthusiasm seems forced. And then there are these serious food shortages.”
“Food shortages?” Doak asked, “in spite of the Great Leap?”
Doak, a scholar of modern Chinese history, was one of our usually well-informed American friends.
“Probably because of it. It’s expected that things will get much worse. I was able to see for myself, at least in the regions I travelled through, that the harvest which had been abundant is rotting in the fields: the peasants who had to gather it in were made to melt iron, and the women and children couldn’t cope. It’s a miserable mess.”
“Have you been able to talk with any officials?”
“That’s never easy, of course, but I was lucky this time. What I’m now going to say is strictly confidential, by the way, so please don’t mention the source. I met my old friend Paul Sun.”
This really gave me a shock: our dear friend Paul, May’s brother! I edged up to Carl and asked excitedly:
“Paul? You saw Paul? How is he? Did you see his sister too?”
“Paul’s quite well. I didn’t meet May, but Paul told me she’s become a journalist of some repute though she writes under a pseudonym, and that she’s an active party member.”
David now tuned in: “I say! Could you please tell us first who Paul and May are?”
“I’m sorry, they’re old friends of Larry and me,” and then Carl explained what post Paul held. All fell silent. Secretary to Zhou Enlai…
“Naturally Paul could not tell me much but because we’re such old friends he gave me quite a bit of background. I understand that Zhou and the other pragmatists are deeply concerned about the present developments. Mao Zedong has declared many times that the masses and the local party cadres know much better how to run the country than the central government and the experts. The new young cadres of peasant or proletarian origin therefore reject all expert advice. In the delirious atmosphere that Mao had conjured up they reported one fantastic success after another.
“Paul admitted frankly that the Great Leap had been a complete failure. Yet he seemed to believe that the painful lessons China has learned will result in a change of policy, a more pragmatic approach.
“He enjoys his job and has the greatest admiration for Zhou Enlai. With this Premier at the head of the Government he is optimistic about the long-range economic development. It is true, of course, that the Chinese have a genius for survival.”
When we were all finally leaving I offered to drive Carl to the Mandarin Hotel. I wanted to have a private talk with him. There was a quiet corner in the bar and there the big question came out:
“Do you really know nothing more about May?”
Carl remained silent for a moment as if casting about for the right words:
“Yes, I know more about May and it did shock me somewhat when I heard it. Brace yourself, Larry. Paul told me that shortly after you left Peking she was found to be pregnant and in July 1949 gave birth to a son.”
“Good God!” I felt the colour draining from my face; the glass in my hand shook and an ice-cube fell out. “And I, without more ado, just left her… How she must have hated me! But why has nobody ever informed me?”
“May was too proud to do that. She assumed — and wasn’t that a fact? — that you didn’t want to marry her. She forbade Paul to write to you.”
“I see, but if I had known…”
“That’s precisely what she didn’t want to happen, that you’d marry her for that reason only. In any case, the political situation made it impossible after your departure. Why Paul told me, I can only guess. I did ask whether I could tell you and he agreed.”
When I questioned him further, Carl told me all he knew about May, that she had become a fervent Communist and anti-American, and that she wrote brilliant articles. About her (and my!) son he could not — however much I urged him — give me any information; he simply did not know.
The ‘Great Leap Forward’ has become an appalling disaster! But even in the midst of China’s great misery the official euphoria continues. Every day we have to live with lies and untruths, words have lost their true meaning. I rubbed my eyes when I read in the People’s Daily:
“Today, in the era of Mao Zedong, heaven is here on earth… Chairman Mao is a great prophet… Each prophecy of Chairman Mao has become a reality.”
Alas, the contrary has happened: a kind of hell is here on earth. Despite the strength of will and dedication of millions of people and the superhuman exertions which have gone into it, the ‘Great Leap Forward’ has turned into one of the greatest man-made disasters in Chinese history.
The famine which started in the countryside has reached the cities, even the capital. Prime Minister Zhou Enlai looked tired and drawn when I found him in the office early one morning. He had worked through the night. For lack of reliable data, even he had not foreseen that the catastrophe would be of such unprecedented proportions.
One important cause of the disaster had been the fact that the cadres had falsely reported fantastically high production figures on the basis of which the peasants had been taxed, with the result that they had hardly anything left to eat.
Moreover, a large part of the peasant labour force had been committed to the frenzied production of useless steel, with the result that the grain could not be harvested and had rotted in the fields.
When Carl visited here, I still showed myself optimistic about our longer range economic prospects but I didn’t know then how desperate the situation was. Also, I could not tell him about my worries that Chairman Mao might again undo whatever our more pragmatic statesmen will achieve. But it was a real pleasure to meet my old friend and reminisce with him about the years we were together in Peking. He brought me up to date on Larry, whom he expected to meet soon in Hong Kong, and when he asked about Father and May, I told him a little. Only I could not let him meet Father; in my function I was allowed to meet foreigners, within limits, but Father was in a more vulnerable position.
I had told Carl frankly that the Great Leap had been a failure, but now we know it was a major catastrophe. It is estimated that at least thirty million people have died of famine and malnutrition.
“It was badly or not at all planned,” Zhou told me bitterly, “a hasty, irresponsible enterprise. Sheer adventurism.”
Never had I heard the Premier criticize the leadership so openly and sharply. Everyone knew that it was Chairman Mao himself who had initiated the Great Leap and stirred up the whole nation. Had the Premier not been able to oppose him, I wondered, or if that was impossible, shouldn’t he have resigned in protest against these lunatic policies? Earlier on he had warned against ‘adventurism’ (and been criticized for it by Mao) but later he had praised the Great Leap. Was he then only a slavish courtier, the classical Prime Minister who follows his Emperor in everything?
A man-made disaster, and the man who bears the full responsibility continues to hold that his policies were right. Mao will not express his regret to his victims; humanitarian feelings or deeds are alien to him.
My father would no doubt again draw a comparison with the ideas of the Law School which abhorred humanitarian acts. Han Feizi disapproved, Father once told me, of a king who shed tears when a death-sentence was executed, on the grounds that this was an expression of ‘the principle of humanity’. Never has anyone seen Mao Zedong shed tears, his face always remains unmoved, his look is cold. Even his smile is distant and detached. After this catastrophe, while from the mountains at Lushan looking out over the wide Yangzi river, he wrote these verses:
“I have leapt over four hundred bends to reach the green mountain-ridge./ Now I gaze with ice-cold eyes at the world beyond the sea.”
It soon transpired that in the Politburo and the Central Committee, at a conference in Lushan, sharp criticism had been levelled against the Great Leap, especially by the Minister of Defence, Marshal Peng Dehuai, a revolutionary leader of the first hour and hero of the Korean war.
I was having lunch in a quiet corner of the office dining hall with one of Mao’s secretaries whom I know well. Over a bowl of spinach and noodles he told me confidentially about the Chairman’s disgraceful behaviour which he, of course, did not describe as such and even admired. He urged me to discuss it with no-one. After the terrible failure of his Great Leap Mao Zedong had actually stated at Lushan that the situation was excellent and had refused to admit his mistakes. Adroitly manoeuvring, Mao had managed to turn the tables and even branded his critic Marshal Peng as a rightist opportunist and anti-Party element. The party leaders, including Zhou Enlai, had not supported Peng.
Ruminating about all this, I cycled back home. It had been a long working-day and what I had heard during the lunch-hour had greatly upset me. Here I rode in the middle of the crowded traffic of thousands of people who had finished a day’s work. All of them revered Mao Zedong, none of them had the slightest inkling of the scenes which had been enacted at the Party summit. Nobody held Mao responsible for the mistakes made during the ‘Great Leap Backward’ (as it should be called), nor for the resulting serious shortages.
That the party leaders had kowtowed before Mao in Lushan, could, I feared, become a dangerous precedent. Here they had had a chance to call Mao to order and cut this man who claimed absolute power for himself, down to size.
Why did Zhou never resist Mao? Was it his idea of party discipline? Did he perhaps not see an alternative to the Chairman who was still worshipped by the people? Was he afraid that if Mao should fall, the country would be reduced to chaos? Or did he not dare oppose him because he, who in the first instance was an administrator (and of bourgeois origin) and had not built up his own following in the Party, did not think himself powerful enough nor see himself as a leader?
From various reliable sources in Zhongnanhai I also heard some gruesome details about Mao’s private life. He suffers from paranoia. When travelling in his private luxurious train, he follows routes that are kept secret and he often changes his travel-plans at the last moment for fear of an attempt on his life. Though he is constantly surrounded by security guards, he never feels safe.
In many places beautiful villas have been built for him, with swimming-pools and always an enormous bed. Excellent cooks, servants and pretty girls stand ready to serve him wherever he appears.
Not only is his sexual hunger not easily satisfied but he believes in some Daoist theory that the yin-force which he obtains through frequent copulations with young women can make him live longer.
The Qin dynasty in the third century B.C., so my father says, also began auspiciously, like our People’s Republic, only to degenerate later into megalomania, paranoia, and cruelty. In his historical studies Father concentrates more and more on the Qin period, it’s almost as if he had lived then and now relives it.
This is what I later read in Father’s Diary:
“The Emperor Qin Shihuangdi’s megalomania is increasing proportionately to his suspicion and fear of plots. Whoever is distrusted by him, however highly placed, is eliminated. He has had two hundred and seventy sumptuous palaces built which for security reasons are connected with each other by underground or roofed-in passages so that nobody will be able to guess where the First Divine Emperor is spending the night. In each palace cooks, servants and a large harem of young women are always available for him. Yet he remains restless, unhappy and worried. It is forbidden on pain of death to make his whereabouts known.
The Emperor is an impetuous, highly emotional and grossly superstitious man but he works hard and does nearly everything himself, except that the main political concepts usually emanate from his cold, calculating and singularly rational Chancellor Li Si. In his zeal to rule the new Empire correctly Qin Shihuangdi reads every day nearly 120 pounds of documents written on thin bamboo strips. If an official makes the slightest mistake he is punished severely, often by death.
The First Divine Emperor is supremely powerful but he is obsessed by fear. Fear of death. He consults Daoist magicians and the book of the legendary Yellow Emperor about methods to gain longevity. He tries out sexual experiments, preferably with several young girls simultaneously, in order to strengthen his yang-potency with the yin-force from their vaginal fluid.
An expedition of several thousands of young boys and girls, after having undergone a ritual purification, was ordered to put out to sea in search of the islands with the divine mountains where the Immortals live, and from there to bring back to Qin Shihuangdi the elixir of immortality. None of them ever returned.
The Daoists taught him that he who renounces the world could gain union with the all-embracing Dao or Absolute, and become a ‘True Man’. The Emperor thereupon took the title of ‘True Man’, the Immortal who ‘can step into the water without getting wet, enter a fire without burning himself, float on clouds and haze, and who is eternal like heaven and earth’. When he refers to himself he does not use the expression ‘Zhen’ (‘We’) but ‘The True Man’. He wants to be worshipped like a god and gain immortality.
He did not succeed in this. On one of his journeys he fell ill and died, fifty years old. His suite, including his youngest son, kept his death secret. The return journey to the capital at the height of the summer-heat took several weeks. Every day food was taken to the imperial hearse, every day edicts were issued from the funeral car in which sat a eunuch who personified the Emperor and affixed the imperial seal to the documents. The stench which rose from the hearse was so nauseating that it had to be followed closely by a cart containing rotten fish to divert attention. Shortly before he died the Emperor had dictated a letter to his eldest son who was in disgrace and had been banished to the northern border region; with this letter he designated him as his successor. The Chancellor Li Si suppressed the letter and from the funeral car now issued an imperial edict addressed to the Crown Prince in which his father ordered him to commit suicide, an order which the loyal eldest son, of course, executed immediately.
The next edict designated the second son as successor to the Throne. This son buried his father and all his wives and courtiers in the gigantic tombs which had been specially built for him and where he was guarded by an enormous underground army. The successor now became Second Divine Emperor but he soon lost the Mandate of Heaven and was forced by the Chancellor to swallow poison.
Those tombs of the First Divine Emperor remind me of my experience as a judge in Lintong [Father’s Diary continues].
In my district there was a separate, severely guarded zone, where the tombs for the Emperor Qin Shihuang were built. The workers included seven hundred thousand convicts, distinguishable as such by their tattooed faces and red clothes; many of them had been castrated as well.
In the strictest secrecy a complete tent-city had arisen there to accommodate the builders, carpenters, metal workers, painters, potters, sculptors and other artists whose task it was to immortalize in the most impressive way the power and the glory of our Emperor in an immense necropolis.
Next to the ‘work-city’ therefore, a gigantic ‘city of death’ has been constructed. The burial mound that has been erected for the First Divine Emperor is more than 75 meters high, it has a diameter of two kilometres and is surrounded by a double wall. Both within and outside, underground rooms are to be found which contain everything the Emperor might need in the great beyond. He rules the entire cosmos: therefore the ceiling of the mausoleum is painted with the sun, moon and stars, and on the ground the course of brooks, rivers and seas is depicted by streams of quicksilver which are propelled by clever mechanisms. There are rare birds and other animals, stables with horses and bronze state-carriages. In strategic places bent bows have been fitted which will automatically shoot arrows at an intruder.
In even greater secrecy entire armies of many thousands of life-size soldiers and officers, both infantry and cavalry, complete with horses and chariots, were manufactured in terra-cotta; they are to protect the Emperor and to beam forth the glory of his great power.
The Qin Emperor had monuments erected all over the Empire with inscriptions that glorify him. In one decade he also had his Great Wall of China built under the most cruel conditions. Its purpose was to keep enemies out and his own people in. This project and the construction of a huge military highway made of several layers of rammed down clay, have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of convicts and recruits.”
* * * *
For the tenth anniversary of the Chinese People’s Republic, the 1st of October, 1959, Mao Zedong wanted to create a centre in Beijing which would be larger and grander than the famous Red Square in Moscow. Premier Zhou has supervised the work, organising and inspecting the smallest details.
When the work was nearly finished, he took his staff on an inspection tour and we were amazed:
The square in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen) has grown to awesome proportions. On national days, every year, millions of jubilant people would parade there in front of Chairman Mao: military detachments with tanks and missiles, civilians with colourful floats and paper flowers, balloons and pigeons, dancing and singing children. But the big square could not contain more than a hundred thousand people at one time, whereas now there is room for half a million!
Enormous though it is, the Tiananmen (with Mao’s huge effigy) still dominates the square more than the large new buildings by which it is now flanked. The most striking of these is the huge Hall of the People with a dining-hall for 5.000 and an auditorium for 10.000 persons. The building is connected with the leadership-centre Zhongnanhai by secret underground corridors, while for Chairman Mao’s personal use there is a luxurious suite (the Beijing Room) with the obligatory enormous bed and with chandeliers that surpass the splendour of those in the Kremlin. The two other large buildings are the historical museum and the museum of the history of the Chinese revolution.
These edifices had to be finished in record time: for twelve months 12.000 workers slaved away day and night without interruption at a time when throughout the entire country economic chaos and a severe famine prevailed.
The parallels between Emperor Mao and the First Divine Emperor which my father has described are indeed striking. But I still have every hope that we in China will not return to a situation such as that of the Qin period, since in spite of my disappointment with Zhou Enlai’s docility towards Mao I have the greatest admiration for his sublime art of government.
With some of his trusted, clever colleagues he has succeeded in pulling us out of the deepest pit of famine and poverty. The Premier usually does not sleep more than a couple of hours every night and is working himself to death. One night I brought him some urgent documents and found him busy with heaps of papers, adding up and dividing production figures. When I remarked that he as the Prime Minister should not bother with such technical questions, he looked up and gravely said:
“Oh no, this is not a small, ‘technical’ matter. This has to do with the food rations of the entire Chinese people.”
He is the sort of man who attends to every detail himself and whose roving eyes notice everything.
Carl is back here, not just visiting but as a Chargé d’Affaires. Regrettably we rarely see him and his wife because I’m not dealing with West-European affairs and contacts outside my duties are extremely restricted. He and the Polish Counsellor are, I think, the only diplomats here who have been posted in China before the Liberation. Anyway, he has come at a time when things are looking up a little.
Agricultural production is boosted now that the peasants have got some land of their own again. There’s more fruit and vegetables on the market, small amounts of meat and fish are sometimes available, and people are regaining their confidence in the leadership.
Life seems brighter again. It’s amazing to see how quickly one forgets past sufferings. Fanglin has been admirably staunch through all our recent hardships and I have made my peace with her; she has become more affectionate and we are much closer now. She was very pleased when I brought her two rare, antique snuff-bottles, which she collects. I had found them at the Eastern Peace Market. All the shops, of course, have been state-owned for years, and so all prices are fixed. Both sellers and buyers miss the bargaining and haggling of old, but business is brisk again.
But could there be danger lurking in the background once more? Will the disastrous twists the poor Chinese Dragon is forced to make ever come to an end? We all fervently hope so but can never be sure. For though Mao Zedong has withdrawn almost completely from public life his role is by no means finished, of that I am convinced.
What kind of design is he secretly hatching in one of his many sultry pleasances in the south? I’m afraid Zhou Enlai and the other leaders are asking themselves that same question; even they seem to be in the dark about it.
Sometimes I feel I am getting old and weak. Yet my yang-force has not diminished at all and my head is clear. If once in a while a bout of sexual impotence bothers me, the ginseng extract they prepare for me soon restores my strength.
I’ve always been restless but during the Lushan conference I have suffered a shock from which I’ve not yet recovered. The criticism of my Great Leap was such that my position was at stake. I won that struggle but have had to take a step backwards and relinquish the presidency of the republic to my enemy Liu Shaoqi. Since then an indeterminate disquiet oppresses me.
Han Feizi, that clever philosopher of the third century B.C., correctly stated:
“When the tiger surrenders his claws and teeth to the dogs, those dogs will subject the tiger.”
Is death at hand? Often, of late, I see him coming towards me. But I don’t want to die as a leader who was pushed aside; until the very last it is I who will run this country and subject everyone to my will.
In ‘The Way of the Ruler’ by that same Han Feizi I came last night across this passage:
“The Way lies in what cannot be seen, its function in what cannot be known. Be empty, still and inactive, and observe from your dark corner the mistakes of others. See, but do not show that you see. Know, but do not make known that you know. Erase your traces, hide your sources, so that your subordinates cannot find the origin of your action. Reject wisdom, abjure skills, so that your subordinates cannot guess what you will do. Destroy all hope, smash every intention to take the power away from you. Do not allow anyone to desire it.”
Yes, that’s true. I bide my time, wait and see, and from afar coax the snakes out of their holes just as I did during the Hundred Flowers campaign. Then my opponents will learn that it is I who am the successor, and nobody else, of all the Emperors who through the ages have sat on the Dragon Throne.
Qin Shihuangdi’s reign as Emperor was short, only eleven years, and he was later abused by his successors and all the scholars but he did lay the foundation for a system which has endured for two thousand years. My rule will last longer than that of Qin and my revolution will change China so radically that my name will be invoked not only in two thousand but in ten thousand years. It will be a permanent, immortal revolution, a state of continuous creative disorder.
I am again, when the time is ripe, going to make use of the means that are mine, and mine only: the mobilization of China’s enormous masses. With the Great Leap I managed to rouse six hundred million people to rapturous enthusiasm and great deeds. That was not to the liking of my enemies and so I am temporarily forced to inactivity. But not for long. I’m watching their mistakes, their deviations from Communism. Quietly I am drawing up my plans.
What we need is another massive political drive which will turn the whole of the country upside down; it will be directed mainly against the party bureaucracy, including the highest leaders who will be accused of ‘going the capitalist road’, but also against all other rightist elements.
Nor do I wholly trust the new, younger generation but I can enthuse them by activating them, by throwing them into the battle and I know they will follow me all the way. Struggle is the Communist password! I already see millions of exultant young people marching past, waving red flags and calling my name. Tremendous waves of energy will sweep through the whole of China, ending in a tidal wave which will wash away Liu Shaoqi and millions of others.
The sun has already reached its zenith and the air is close and sultry. On my terrace, in the shade of a spectacular pine-tree, I’m happily lazing away the time in a lounge-chair, my naked body only wrapped loosely in a cool bathrobe. I am, after all, different from other people: when one suffers from insomnia and is forever working or reading through the night almost until dawn, one’s day doesn’t start until noon. I always read a great deal but selectively and rather superficially. Some people think that I have read the historical annals of all the Chinese dynasties and I leave them under that delusion.
I shall never be a scholar — none of the world’s greatest heroes were scholars anyway — but my constant reading has one practical advantage in that it provides me with striking classical quotations to be used as ammunition in my political struggles. When I riffle through the leaves of historical accounts, I really only read the parts which interest me most: the unremitting fight for power, the Court intrigues, the plots and murders, the transition of one dynasty to the next, and so on.
The life and achievements of Emperor Qin Shihuang who was the first to unify China, are very instructive; so are the philosophical ideas of the Law School of that period. Fascinating too is the story of the Han dynasty’s downfall and of the conflicts that are described in the ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’. Much can also be learned from the ‘General Mirror for the Aid of Government’. I like to alternate such historical books with works from my extensive library of erotic literature: the lively novel Jin Ping Mei (Plum Blossom in Gold Vase) or the exciting nude prints which realistically illustrate the sexual advice given to the legendary Yellow Emperor.
My bodyguard has brought my tea and rubbed me with a moist bath-towel — my way of taking a bath. All the while I go on smoking cigarettes, I’ve always been a chain-smoker. Now he serves me a meal of cooked fish, of pork fried in plenty of oil and mixed with my favourite hot peppers from Hunan, and some lamb and vegetables. This is both breakfast and lunch.
Jiang Qing is busy making preparations for the visit of some revolutionary journalists from Peking and Shanghai whom we have invited.
Over the mountains and the West Lake, so frequently praised in Chinese poetry, a light haze is suspended. From the nearby bushes the emphatic trilling chant of crickets emerges and from the distant, wet rice-fields rises the croaking of thousands of frogs. Apart from these sounds of nature everything is quiet around this villa. It’s a delightful place, just outside beautiful Hangzhou, and I seldom receive visitors here, only when it suits my plans.
Let’s see whether the fruit of the banana-tree on the opposite side of the terrace is ripe. Ouch! Getting up from my chair is becoming more difficult every day, and where is my cane? There the young girl comes running to give it to me and she supports my other arm. The touch of her young, soft body rouses my desire but that’ll have to wait now. In the beginning Jiang Qing was not very kind to my partners, not even to this beautiful child who takes such good care of me and satisfies my physical needs in a way my wife has long been unable to do. Small wonder that Jiang Qing felt frustrated and insecure, even afraid that I would abandon her, until I allowed her to play a part in my political schemes.
Most people really are despicable creatures. The philosophers of the Law School were right and they knew how to deal with them. But in the two thousand years that have elapsed since then we have developed much more refined methods, not only to keep them under control but to make them do exactly what we want. We have left the Qin Emperor with his severe laws far behind.
He worked hard but in his idle hours liked to play with puppets; this gave him an additional sense of power. I do the same, only I do not use puppets but live people whom I cause to work, dance, go into prison or die as and when my whim dictates. They all know it and obey me. Those few who don’t will regret it bitterly, as Peng Dehuai did, that old comrade of the Revolution, when I labelled him as a ‘rightist element’ who ‘had sneaked into the Party under false pretences’.
Ha! That’s how they let themselves be manipulated, my live puppets! With a few words I was able to transform a revolutionary of the first hour into a ‘counter-revolutionary’ and a ‘capitalist-roader’. One only has to find the right word.
It is an old Chinese principle that you are lost when you cannot give a name to things. Isn’t this what befell Qin Shihuangdi’s successor, the Second Divine Emperor? His Chancellor Zhao Gao presented a deer to the Emperor and said to him:
“I make you a present of this fine horse, Your Majesty.”
The Emperor looked surprised:
“You are in error, Chancellor. This is not a horse but a deer.”
The wise old Chancellor countered in a decided tone:
“No, Your Majesty, have a good look, it is a horse.”
The Emperor became worried: was he suffering from delusions? In his anxiety he turned to the courtiers and officials present, to obtain their confirmation of his perception but their reaction astounded him. They considered long and gravely. Almost all of them thought that in a way the animal looked like a horse! Well, yes, it was a horse, they firmly declared and gave the Emperor a look of pity. Two or three others could not form an opinion and there were only two minor officials who said it was a deer; these would later be punished by the Chancellor.
Now it had become obvious to all that the Emperor could no longer call things by their name and had thereby lost control over them. The Chancellor, however, could. The Mandate of Heaven passed into the hands of the Chancellor who forced the Second Divine Emperor to take poison.
For the time being I shall remain in the background, posing as a weak old man. From my silent corner I observe how the party leaders and their economic planners are trying to put back the clock by giving the peasants their own plot of land and concluding production contracts with them.
That is not socialism, that is the road to capitalism! Soon these capitalist-roaders will find that I won’t tolerate this. But not now, not yet, first they will have to commit themselves further. In line with the thinking of Han Feizi that brilliant strategist Sun Zi already recognized that all warfare is based on deception:
“When capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity.”
I suffer from many ailments. Will I live long enough to do all I want to do? I often wonder whether I could make my life longer. By means of Daoist sexual practices it would be possible, I’ve been told. The attractive and politically reliable girls of low birth who have been selected for me, all worship their Great Leader and are pining to enter the bed of their idol. They even love my body odour; I always smell of sweat like a peasant who has worked on the land all day, I never bathe or wash myself and do not brush my teeth. Nor do my rough, boorish manners repel them; on the contrary, they find them attractive. To them the smell of my body is the odour of supreme power. They are, after all, young women from the poorest layer of society, who have been freed by our revolution, and now experience the dizzying intoxication of being allowed to offer their naked body to the Chairman himself.
Some of these virgins are still shy at first when, blushing, they undress at my command or when I impatiently tear the clothes from their body, but there are also those who need not be goaded and who spontaneously snuggle up to me. With all these young females, preferably with two or three simultaneously, I practice the many tricks, whether in bed or in the swimming-pool, which are explained in the sexual manual of the Yellow Emperor. One of the most important ones is this:
“Know the male, keep the female” which means: “strengthen the male sperm (yang) with the female fluid (yin), take without giving”.
The younger the carrier of this precious yin, the longer its mingling with his seed will make the Emperor live.
My style of life is nobody’s business. But the masses must lead a disciplined life and be freed of the lewd sexual desires which were inherent in capitalism. The Party must see to it that in our country not a hint of sexuality is publicly displayed. Even to talk about such things is wrong. Embraces or kissing in streets or parks will be punished severely. This policy has my full approval because only in this way can the discipline of socialism be maintained. I have also let it be known that I disapprove of families having more than three children; later we shall perhaps have to reduce the number further. Young people who want to get married have to postpone their marriage as long as possible. Assigning them to jobs in different, distant regions is a useful method.
Even more important than limiting the population growth, of course, is the political need to thwart the love between a man and a woman, since the Party cannot secure a grip on people for whom love comes first. Love is wrong, a bourgeois concept; it needs privacy and draws the individual away from communal life and socialist production.
My private life, I’ve discovered, resembles in many respects that of Cao Cao, a general I much admire. It says in the ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’:
“He cultivated both the art of peace and the art of war; during the thirty-odd years when he commanded troops, books never left his hand. During the day he attended to military matters, during the night he applied his mind to the Classics and their commentaries. When he climbed a height, he would always compose verses. (-) By nature he was temperate and frugal, not given to pomp and adornment. Ladies of his harem did not wear any embroidered garments, his attendants did not have two pairs of footwear. (-) But in the maintenance of laws he was harsh and exacting. If any of his subordinate generals had [thought he had, is what is meant here, of course!] better counsels of war than his, he would find an opportunity to put him to death under the pretext of some law; and none of his former associates and friends who had earned his grudge were spared.”
Jiang Qing told me that the journalists whom I invited for a talk, have arrived. I entered the room shuffling and they were introduced by my secretary Chen Boda. They’re not the top-grade but my wife has selected them especially for their radical inclination, ambition and talent; and also because they have not made a career yet, with the exception of one of them, comrade Sun Baomei, a brilliant young journalist. Her brother Baozheng, who is secretary to Zhou Enlai, I’ve met once or twice, so I asked her affably how he was. She gives you an impression of being spirited and resolute and she looked straight into my eyes, in an admiring way. There they all sit in a round circle with their cups of tea, gazing in silent awe at their great Chairman who made some simple jokes that made them all laugh.
Then I told them of my displeasure about the way in which the socialist revolution is being slowed down and indicated to them where the villains were to be found. They listened spell-bound. My secretary Chen Boda will also talk with them later. I think that among these politically engaged journalists I have sown the seeds of a new ideological campaign which will startle the party bureaucracy.
Mine is not only the character of the powerful, all-devouring tiger but I also have the reckless, active and unpredictable traits of the supernatural ‘Golden Monkey’ of Chinese mythology who with his unexpected, startling tricks always wins his battles.
With a number of other journalists I was invited to visit Hangzhou, where we would meet with Chairman Mao! A whole week long I lived in a sort of feverish tension and excitement. We would stand eye to eye with the great man, our legendary leader, and he would converse with us. Just imagine that he’d ask me a question, how would I react? The very thought made my heart beat faster.
When the tall figure of the Chairman — a massive, portly bear — came in and greeted us good-naturedly, we were all deeply impressed. He radiates leadership. His physical condition seemed frail, but his revolutionary fire and fighting spirit had not diminished in the least. In the quiet, authoritative manner which I so admire in him, he propounded surprising and unorthodox ideas.
If revolutionaries think their task is accomplished, they’re wrong, he said — or words to that effect. They will then have ceased to be revolutionaries, and automatically turned revisionists. The revolution must be permanent. Our society, our government and our Party have become too orderly, the fat cadres have entrenched themselves in their private kingdoms, a new caste has arisen which is betraying the revolution and going the capitalist way. Not only has the socialisation of agriculture been halted, but it has even partly been privatised!
What’s needed therefore, is a thorough rectification of the Party which must not spare even the highest cadres. If such a campaign should not have the desired results, the Party will, if necessary, have to be replaced by a new one! Too much order is no good, it makes people smug and complacent. We must have chaos again. Chaos and disorder are a good thing.
If it comes to the worst, the Chairman said gravely, I shall withdraw to my old guerilla-base of Chingkanshan in the mountains, and start the fight anew. Sitting next to Jiang Qing, I said to her that these words were quite after my heart, whereupon Mao’s wife spontaneously remarked: “But Liu Shaoqi will not like this at all. By the way, have you seen the photos of his state visit to Indonesia, where his wife is pictured in a shameless, capitalist cheongsam-dress? They seem to enjoy their high position.”
Was Chairman Mao preparing a drive against President Liu himself, a communist of the first hour and President of the Republic? I was shocked and could hardly believe it to be true. “The rectification campaign must not spare even the highest cadres,” he had said, and now this remark his wife had made… If it were true, Mao Zedong would undoubtedly have good reason for it. And it was a reassuring thought that he apparently wanted to lead the nation again after he had kept in the background for some years. The attack which I expected was an indirect one, in typical Chinese fashion, and on altogether different ground. In a Shanghai paper sharp criticism was voiced of a play written by the vice-mayor of Peking, Wu Han, about a high official of the Ming dynasty who had told his Emperor the plain truth, and for that reason had been dismissed. Before, Mao had praised this official, Hai Rui, but now this play was seen, and rightly so, as an allusion to Peng Dehuai’s fate.
In this play ‘Hai Rui Dismissed From His Office’ the Emperor is reproached inter alia as follows:
‘Your mind is deluded, and you are too dogmatic and prejudiced. You think you are always right and refuse criticism…’ The criticism of the author of this play was the starting shot for a large-scale purge in the Party. A nation-wide ‘socialist education movement’ has been launched by Chairman Mao.
The public adoration and worship of Mao Zedong is being stepped up. When the Chairman, as proof of his excellent health, had swum in the Yangzi river for an hour, surrounded by thousands of enthusiastic young people, the newspapers carried jubilant headlines, for the first time printed in red ink, and in all work-units celebrations were held to congratulate the Chairman. Out on the streets drums were beaten, crackers exploded and flags billowed:
The eastern sky reddens,
The sun rises.
And in China Mao Zedong has come!
He strives for the welfare of the people,
He is the Great Saviour of the people!
The minister of defence, Lin Biao, successor of the unfortunate Peng Dehuai, leads the campaign for the adoration of Chairman Mao. It’s quite right, of course, that Mao is spontaneously worshipped by the whole nation, but I’m beginning to wonder whether Lin Biao’s exaggerated sycophancy and deification of Mao is perhaps less inspired by genuine admiration than by personal ambition. I am informed that he recently declared in the Central Committee:
‘Mao Zedong Thought is an everlasting truth (-). Every sentence of Chairman Mao’s works is a Truth, one single sentence of his surpasses ten thousand of ours.’
It’s also Lin Biao who has had the ‘Little Red Book’ with quotations from Mao’s works printed and distributed in millions of copies, which in itself is a good thing. We’re all very busy learning the little book by heart. Lin Biao has been appointed vice-chairman of the Party and proclaimed as ‘Chairman Mao’s closest comrade-in-arms’.
Great things are about to happen, and it could become a political earthquake. Here in the editorial office of our newspaper we sense it coming. Paul rang me and said that Father and other professors of Beida have been deeply humiliated and even tortured by extreme radicals. The students there are in a ferment and greatly excited. I was shocked when I learned what they had done to my father, but apart from that I naturally sympathize wholeheartedly with the revolutionary students’ movement. Fortunately, Father and his colleagues have been released by order of higher authority (Jiang Qing). But the rebellion in the universities has been approved by these same leaders.
Then Paul was on the phone again:
“Have you seen or heard? That huge poster, written by Mao himself, which they’ve hung at the university? I’ve just heard from Father who has seen it. It says:
Bombard The Headquarters!
“In these posters,” Paul added, “the leaders, from the highest in the centre (with the exception, of course, of Mao Zedong himself) down to the lowest, local level, are accused of the ‘suppression of revolutionaries’. Everywhere such posters are now appearing. This must be the beginning of the attack on Liu Shaoqi.”
And that was what I had more or less expected. Revolution! Hardly had I put the phone down and I was already on my way to see for myself. The universities Beida and Qinghua were a hive of activity, and buzzing with rumours. There was total confusion everywhere, but I was impressed with the revolutionary spirit of the students which was infectious. This was a time of great, historic events, I felt.
The old establishment was turned upside down by the younger generation. All those arrogant professors will have to learn that they no longer call the tune. My father is one of the few exceptions, he has always been in favour of renewal. Although I fervently hope that they will leave him alone now, I’m afraid that in this complete chaos he will not remain unhurt. Regrettably that sort of thing cannot be avoided. Chairman Mao has said that a revolution is not a dinner-party, or the writing of an essay, the making of a painting or embroidery.
I went to Beida in order to interview Nie Yuanzi, the activist who had written the famous first poster, which Mao had highly praised. A slender, even lean young woman with restless eyes and hands, but also with the self-confident smile of the celebrity, she readily answered my questions.
“How did it come about that it was you, comrade, who wrote that first poster?”
“It had long annoyed me that mayor Peng Zhen and that traitor of a university president were doing their utmost to obstruct our cultural revolution in every way. Then I read the circular of the Central Committee which contained accusations against Peng Zhen, and that settled it. For then I knew that Chairman Mao would support our action.”
“He rang you himself?”
“Yes, that was great! He agreed a hundred percent with the contents of our poster, and ordered the authorities to publish the text and broadcast it over the radio. That was an important incitement for many others too. We called for a life-and-death struggle against the Black Gang which in its frenzy launched attacks against the Party, socialism and Mao Zedong Thought. We protested against those who prevented us from holding mass meetings to accuse and condemn the filthy reactionary elements.”
“You have indeed dealt the revisionists and black traitors a heavy blow, and given the revolution a new élan. The fact that you, a woman, have taken the lead here, is a tremendous encouragement for all Chinese women.”
Yuanzi smoothed back a loose lock of hair, gave me a gracious smile, and poured another cup of tea.
“In the beginning you met with a lot of opposition?”
“Yes, and how! Many students lacked political consciousness. We were jeered at and I even sustained some nasty blows. Afterwards, wherever I appeared, I was abused as ‘leader of the rightists’ and harassed in various ways.”
I remained silent, reflecting how much worse others had been treated on this very campus. But though Yuanzi as a person was not very likeable, I agreed with her action and admired her courage.
“Do you have a message for the readers of my newspaper, comrade Yuanzi?”
She did not need much time for reflection:
“After the Liberation we’ve kept many elements of the old bureaucracy in their posts. Nor has the bourgeois ideology been wiped out. And then the revisionists appeared. We’re now ruled by a top-heavy bureaucracy which is remote from the people, and it’s the cultural revolution which will smash it to pieces. Only with Mao Zedong Thought can we achieve this.”
It sounded rather stereotyped, but I thought I could make a good, dramatic story out of it all. When early one morning I entered the office of my newspaper, I immediately sensed that the atmosphere was tense. One of my co-editors showed me the editorial comment on the most recent events which the editor-in-chief Yao had written; it was a shrewd, veiled attack against Chairman Mao.
“I know how it came about,” said a colleague. “Accidentally I overheard Yao talking on the phone about this article with the Beijing Party Committee, and you know as well as I do that over there they are still siding with Liu Shaoqi.”
Just imagine, our paper siding with the traitors! I was furious: “But that’s out of the question! This will not be printed in our paper. We block the presses, and I ‘m going to call in the Red Guards. Will you help me?”
My colleague hesitated but finally agreed. I went to work right away, made a fiery speech to the printers who responded with alacrity, phoned the Beida Red Guards, and with a steady hand wrote big posters which my colleague and I hung in the office and fastened outside to the front door:
“Protect Chairman Mao!”, “Angrily open fire on the Chinese Khrushchev and his revisionist clique!”, and also “Yao Zenglian has gone the capitalist road. Drag him out, make him bow and confess his crimes!”
General editor Yao was pacing the floor nervously, but left us alone. The rest of the personnel at first stood idly by, but began at last to join in, surrounding Yao and abusing him. In the street a large group of curious onlookers had gathered. Shortly after, a military truck halted in front of our building, and a group of young Red Guards rushed in.
“Assemble in this hall, all of you!” was the command. “Who is Sun Baomei?” I reported to them.
“You called us in. What happened?”
I explained the situation and indignantly showed them the text of Yao’s article. Two Red Guards roughly grabbed a trembling Yao and tied his hands behind his back:
“Confess your guilt, filthy traitor!”
But Yao recovered himself: “I am not accountable to you. I wrote this article on the authority of the Beijing Party Committee. Do you by any chance want to place yourselves above the Communist Party? Who do you think you are?”
The boys who had him in their grip each took out a leather belt and beat Yao up until he fell down bleeding:
“Dirty revisionist dog, do you still live in feudal times? How dare you go against Chairman Mao’s instructions? You will not escape punishment!”
Yao was placed on the truck among other accused, and they drove off. A few Red Guards remained behind to interrogate the personnel and go through the documents. The newspaper remained closed that day, but I wrote a fiery article which appeared the next day on the front page.
My son Liang later phoned and sounded pleased. As an active sixteen-year-old Red Guard he was visiting Shanghai with his group to exchange experiences. He’d read the account of Yao’s arrest and my article. He said he was proud of his mother. I was moved, but at such moments it pains me that Liang has to go without a father, and I’m aware that this is an additional incentive for me not to achieve less than a man.
Square of Heavenly Peace, 18 August 1966
I’d got up very early this morning to be in time for the day’s great happening: a parade of young Red Guards. I still had no idea what it all meant but didn’t want to miss it.
When Fanglin brought me my tea she said with a worried frown on her face:
“Why don’t you stay home, Paul? That’s no place for you. God knows what’s going to happen to you, to Wuling and me. Please stay here.”
But I laughed her worries away. It’s true the atmosphere has been tense for some time and all sorts of rumours are circulating about coming disorders, but at the parade I would just be an onlooker.
And so I stand here once again with some of my colleagues on this immense square in the centre of Beijing watching an awesome parade. From the moment they started at dawn a million young Red Guards must have been marching past the Gate of Heavenly Peace from which Mao Zedong, dressed in a simple khaki uniform of the People’s Liberation Army, is taking the salute.
Shouting their slogans enthusiastically, and many of them even hysterically, they wave their little red books with quotations from Mao’s works and look up to their God with fanatical devotion. It is eerie. Are they out of their senses? With Mao are Zhou Enlai, the Defence Minister Lin Biao, and the Chairman’s wife Jiang Qing.
This is the first act of a new mobilisation of the masses, but these masses consist mostly of middle school pupils. A young Red Guard runs up the stairs to where Mao stands and pins a red armband with the inscription hong weibing (Red Guard) on his sleeve. For whoever had not yet understood, there could be no more doubt: this mass movement has Mao’s blessing.
I had asked Zhou Enlai what the purpose of the new campaign was. He had looked embarrassed and answered:
“Chairman Mao thinks the Party needs new blood. He has decided that the young ones should now play a role. That in itself is, of course, a good thing.”
Play a role they now certainly do. The city is being terrorized by hundreds of thousands of eager, fanatical children, yes: children, of between twelve and fifteen years old, some even younger, who by order of Chairman Mao are making this ‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’. Hatred and vandalism abound, but what the real purpose of this so-called revolution is, remains unclear so far.
We heard that there were serious disturbances at Beida university. I tried to ring my father but his phone did not answer and I could not get in touch with May either. So I went to Beida myself. There was pandemonium there and an indescribable chaos. Everywhere I saw posters and writings on walls with slogans and accusations but Father’s name was not among them. Wherever I went, nobody had seen or heard about him. Finally there was one Red Guard who reacted to my question:
“Are you a relative?”
“Yes, his son.”
“Then you’re the rotten egg of a dirty bourgeois reactionary. Get out of here, or we’ll lock you up.”
Some days later Father came home. He and his colleagues had been horribly abased and tormented but after a visit to Beida by Jiang Qing and other leaders of the cultural revolution, they had been released for the time being. Apparently it was still deemed too early for this action. Father was in a state of shock and there was little I could do to comfort him; the whole city is in a turmoil.
The Red Guards swarm all over Beijing, on foot, bicycles or trucks provided by the Army, with blaring loudspeakers through which they shout abuse and fierce orders or sing revolutionary songs. It’s their professed aim to wipe out all ‘bourgeois’ stains, obliterate the relics of the past, and destroy the bureaucratic establishment.
My throat tightened with fear and anger when I first saw them in action. Stone lions that guard gates of centuries-old palaces and temples, and stone turtles (symbols of long life) supporting memorial tablets were mutilated, their heads chopped off. In temples Buddhas were beheaded and wooden statues of great aesthetic and historical value were burned. Now I understood why Zhou Enlai had ordered all museums to be closed and had drawn up a list of national monuments which should be spared.
The gangs of Mao’s ‘little generals’ constantly raid private houses which they turn inside out and when they discover so-called counter-revolutionaries and ‘black’ elements, these are then handcuffed and led away in trucks to one of the many mass trials. Many have a board hung round their neck with texts such as “I am a dirty revisionist, a filthy stinking bourgeois”. They hang their heads. When they look up they are cruelly beaten and admonished:
“Bow your dog’s head!”
Others are paraded through the streets wearing a dunce’s cap on which their name and alleged crimes are written. Apart from some exceptions the crowd appears amused at the sight of these formerly prominent men being dragged through the mire. Broad smiles everywhere, cheers and taunts.
From a distance I helplessly witnessed many of such scenes; there was nothing one could do. I felt a cold shiver. It brought to mind that infamous ‘Kristallnacht’ in Nazi-Germany I had read about — the smashing of tens of thousands of Jewish-owned shops, the maltreatment and killing of Jews, the boards with ‘Jude’ (Jew), the David stars, the tortures — a night which was followed by the most horrible, large-scale slaughter of the Jews.
What was it that I had read in my student days, in a book by Gustave Le Bon, La psychologie des foules (The Crowd)? I have kept that book and now I find a passage which I had underlined:
“… (The individual in a crowd) … is no longer himself, but an automaton which his will is not able to steer. By the very fact that he is part of a crowd, man descends several rungs on the ladder of civilisation. In isolation he may have been a civilised individual, once part of the masses he becomes an instinctive being and thereby a barbarian. He has the spontaneity, the violence and the savageness, but also the enthusiasm and heroism of primitive creatures.”
“The crowd is not only impulsive and mobile. Like the savage, crowds do not tolerate any obstacle between their desire and its realisation, the more so as their number gives them a feeling of invincible power…”
Yes, this is what we now see actually happening. I had always thought that China was too civilised to debase itself to such a low level. The worst, the most intolerable of it all is the tension and fear in which everyone lives, the uncertainty, the long wait: when will they come to our house?
Fanglin and I are going through our papers and photographs, and hiding or burning those that might give offence. Might give offence to… children! What kind of a world do we live in? Has Mao gone mad?
Fortunately Wuling, now sixteen, has not expressed a wish to join the Read Guards nor has he, as far as I know, been urged to do so by his schoolmates yet. But his attitude towards us is subtly changing: he has taken to contradicting me — oh, very politely — and pointing out that such and such a view or attitude is not proletarian. And he does occasionally quote Mao! It is abominable but can one blame him? The young are so easily influenced, and even at that age their instinct for self-preservation is well developed. We try to educate them as best we can but would not do them a service if we instilled criticism of Mao in them. Who knows how long they will have to live with this Mao Zedong Thought?
From nearby I can see how cleverly Prime Minister Zhou Enlai manoeuvres in these turbulent times. I have no doubt that he is a revolutionary to the backbone and that he generally shares Mao Zedong’s ideals. He’s definitely not a conservative. I remember what Zhou said many years ago, when he told me that the Party and the bureaucracy ought to be purged more frequently:
“In ten years from now our youth will rebel if we don’t change our bureaucratic ways.”
The socialist revolution has a high priority for him, and so he doesn’t reject the cultural revolution as such. But Zhou is also a practical and orderly statesman, a most capable administrator, who as head of the government bears a heavy responsibility. Therefore he will always see the need for preventing unnecessary and useless excesses. He abhors disorder and chaos.
Zhou waves his Little Red Book assiduously, he is a member of the highest organ of the Cultural Revolution, participates in the main mass meetings, and addresses the Red Guards also in smaller groups. He praises and encourages them; he explains to them how they should operate and exhorts them to exercise moderation. While adopting the slogans of the cultural revolution, in the same breath he gives instructions that run directly counter to the radical wishes of Lin Biao and Jiang Qing. He speaks out against the dissension between the many groups of Red Guards and Revolutionary Rebels that have sprung up and appeals to them to unite, to be disciplined and reasonable, and to study.
Through violence they will not achieve anything, he enjoins upon them. And a constant theme of his speeches to Red Guards is his urgent summons to avoid any acts which could disrupt public administration, industrial or agricultural production, public transportation or scientific research.
Zhou has been given support by Mao Zedong and Lin Biao for these principles which were embodied in the so-called Sixteen Points. However, they were soon violated by the radical Maoists.
The Cultural Revolution now veers to the left, then again to the right. Zhou Enlai knows when to swing round to the left but as soon as he realises that the situation gets out of hand and needs to be corrected, he sharply turns the wheel to the right. Zhou’s charisma and powers of persuasion usually have more impact in smaller gatherings than in mass-meetings. He is no demagogue and is aware of it; perhaps that is one reason why he has never made a bid for the highest position and has always supported Mao — the only leader apparently, in his eyes, who can keep China together.
Despite Zhou’s continuing efforts at moderation, the Red Guards and Rebels are on the rampage all over China. Shops are attacked, wares that are deemed ‘bourgeois’ smashed, and the owners have no alternative but to bow their head and hang a sign on the door ‘Closed for interior repairs’.
One day, coming home, I was shocked to see Fanglin lying on a couch, dishevelled and bruised, her clothes torn. She was sobbing uncontrollably. I went up to her and stroked her hair but she fended me off.
“What happened? Were you attacked?”
“Those Red Guards! Those hateful young bandits, the darlings of Chairman Mao!” She stopped crying and sat up.
“But how? Why?”
“Why? Because we are supposed to be the vermin of the nation, poisonous snakes, and they are pure, genuine proletarians, fighting for that Communist cause you so admire.”
I let that remark pass. At last she told me that a mob of youngsters with red arm-bands had accused her of wearing clothes that had a foreign, capitalist look. They had torn them and beaten her up. I was very angry but felt powerless. It would be useless, even dangerous to file a complaint. In the streets I had seen old people being pushed, kicked and spat at by these young brutes, then forced on their knees to confess crimes they had never committed.
We live in a constant nightmare now. At first we all thought it was just another political ‘campaign’, another twist and turn of our unfortunate Chinese Dragon. But here in Prime Minister Zhou Enlai’s office we receive increasingly alarming reports about a threatening breakdown of the economy as well as desperate letters from people living in mortal terror. We know now that this campaign is a different and far more serious affair.
It has become known that there is a power struggle going on at the highest level. Mao, always jealous and suspicious, but increasingly so in his advanced age, is out for President Liu Shaoqi’s blood and that of all others who have not wholeheartedly welcomed the fruits of his wisdom.
It is a great blessing for China that Zhou Enlai is its Prime Minister. Where would we be without him? He keeps the vital sectors of the administration and the economy intact and he helps in individual cases wherever he can.
Can’t we ever be left in peace in this country? We all live in great fear again. The conflict among the highest Party leaders, between the Mao-line and the Liu-line, as they call it, is reflected even here at the University of Beijing, Beida. Some left-radical elements, encouraged by a circular of the Central Committee, have hung on the wall of the dining-hall a big-character poster (da-zi bao) in which the management of the university is sharply criticised. This is the first such poster of the cultural revolution; it’s expected to be followed by many others. When I read the text I had an oppressive sense of imminent calamity. I knew who was behind this: a young reader in the faculty of philosophy, a quarrelsome, somewhat neurotic young woman. Her name, Nie Yuanzi, would soon become famous all over China.
When the president of the university Lu, I myself and some others were in a conference, a number of radical Maoist students suddenly invaded the hall, waving their Little Red Books and shouting slogans: “Protect Chairman Mao! Down with the bourgeois-reactionary clique!”
The president remained seated and said nothing, but I drew myself up to my full height, looked at them with blazing eyes and called in my most stentorian voice: “All of us here follow Chairman Mao. Behave yourselves in an orderly manner, in accordance with the Chairman’s wishes, and leave this room immediately!”
A silence fell, for a moment they were confused. But the ringleaders among them started shouting: “Don’t believe him! Smash these filthy rightist traitors!” They seized us, there was a scuffle, but it was an unequal fight, for the young brutes were in the majority and armed with clubs.
They dragged their captives — professors and higher administrative personnel — to the campus, where an even greater number of radicals had gathered, who surrounded us and subjected us to a ‘struggle meeting’. The majority of Beida students, I knew, were moderates but apparently they did not dare oppose this action. Such meetings in which an accused was ‘struggled against’ had become a normal feature during political campaigns.
We were helpless victims. Our tormentors forced us to kneel down or to stand for hours in the extremely painful ‘jet’ (aeroplane) posture, in which they forcefully pulled our arms up and backwards, and pushed our heads down. My weak left arm could not bear this for long but whenever it came down, it was beaten where it caused me the most pain. The constant angry shouting and abuse were also hard to bear. Absolutely absurd accusations were hurled at us, and we were forced to confess our ‘crimes’. When I refused and stood my ground, I was clubbed on the head. Paper dunce’s caps, one meter high, were put on our heads, with our names and ‘sins’ written on them, and we were paraded round the campus.
That evening I was locked up in a coal-shed. The next day, when I still had not confessed, black ink was poured over my bleeding head and I was called a ‘black reactionary’. We were formed into ‘reform-through-labour’ teams and in the blazing sun were set to work in the garden. Sometimes the Red Guards invited passers-by to come and look at the ‘variety-show’: their victims, mostly respectable, elderly gentlemen, among whom scholars of high repute, were compelled to skip and jump, and sing revolutionary songs. It was a loathsome performance, a humiliation which I shall never forget in my whole life.
Then important visitors came to Beida: Mao’s wife Jiang Qing and two of his closest collaborators, Zhen Bo-da and Kang Sheng. They came to investigate the earlier actions by so-called ‘rightist’ working groups, which they condemned. They decided that the university president and the other professors should be released ‘for the time being’, but at the same time gave their full support to the left-radical students.
Now that these were officially sanctioned, the whole of the university remained in a turmoil: nobody wanted to be second to anyone in revolutionary spirit and run the risk of being branded as ‘rightist’. Weeklong discussions were taking place, the buildings were decked with Mao’s portraits and sayings; they were also hung in the students’ dormitories. Everything ‘old’ was to be abolished, the educational system to be totally renewed, the whole of society radically changed. The university now had its own Revolutionary Committee. No lectures were held, all the students were engaged in political agitation. All the schools throughout China were likewise closed.
A few weeks later, Red Guards unexpectedly invaded our home. My wife was absent, and I was not allowed to phone my son Paul or anyone else. I did not even try to reach May, who has herself lost her head completely. It distresses me that she plays an active part in this evil ‘revolution’ and that she has reared Liang — my grandson! — as a fierce communist.
When the young rogues could not find anything suspicious to taunt me with, they got angry. I possess a large, precious library with history books, Chinese classical and modern literature and philosophy, and also foreign literature. To my dismay they roughly took everything that was dear to me and threw it on the floor, even rare, costly editions: the famous Analects and The Great Learning by Confucius, the Book of Spring and Autumn, the works of Mengzi (Mencius) and Xunzi, of Han Yu and Hu Shi, of Shakespeare and Auden, Goethe, Balzac and Tolstoy.
In desperation I asked these miscreants:
“What do you want with these? Don’t you know that the wisdom and beauty of centuries is contained in these books? The knowledge of your own ancestors?”
They laughed at me scornfully: “Not of ours, old man, they were poor peasants and slaves of the feudal lords! All of this will be burned, the whole reactionary trash!”
One of them, who was a little older and looked like an intellectual, said to me mockingly: “Chairman Mao has declared that he, like the Qin Emperor, rejects the old and honours the new! Do you really want to oppose Chairman Mao?”
Whatever arguments I used to dissuade them from their insane purpose, it was to no avail. Having loaded everything onto two trucks, they departed. I was beside myself with anguish and rage, and went after them on my bicycle. From a distance I had to look on helplessly as books and scrolls from two other houses were also carried outside and thrown onto the trucks.
On a square nearby, Mao’s adolescent gangsters halted again, unloaded all of their booty, and set it alight while the neighbourhood children cheered. The Chinese classics burned fastest, then I saw my beloved Shakespeare, Flaubert, Li Bo and Du Fu go up in flames; the fat tomes of the Encyclopedia Britannica held out longest.
Twilight began to close in and the low clouds were coloured red. Wheeling my bike I stumbled home, where I lay down on my bed, totally exhausted. I looked around: the walls were bare, no painting, no art object of bronze or porcelain, not a single book these criminals had left. Only Mao’s writings had been spared and his plaster head, which was hollow and contained my secret diary.
From Professor Sun Hanxun’s Diary:
“The Chancellor of the Empire, Li Si, was a Legalist of the first water, who treated the common people with icy contempt and the Confucian scholars with deep distrust and hatred. On this, the Emperor Qin Shihuang and the Chancellor were of one mind.
In a Memorial to the Throne Li Si accused the intellectuals of not understanding the glorious deeds of the First Divine Emperor. ‘The scholars’, he said, ‘do not take the present as a model, but study antiquity in order to defame the present epoch. They cause doubt and confusion among the common people’. On his recommendation therefore all the official histories, except those of the Qin dynasty, were burned; also all of the classical philosophical works by Confucius and others, with the exception, naturally, of those of the stern and cynical School of Law by which the Qin Empire was guided, as well as certain categories of technical books. All those who dared discuss the forbidden philosophies would be executed and their corpses exposed in the market-place.
A friend warned me not to withhold any of the incriminated books, because our most efficient state police would surely uncover any transgression, and the penalty would be atrocious.
All my valuables, all those art objects of mine, I’d gladly give away, if only I could keep my books. With my loyal friend Hongxu we take his and my library out, but cannot bring ourselves to place them in the mud, even though they are to be burned. We lay them out on rolls of paper as a last homage. I feel as if I am going to commit my own children to a funeral pyre. Everyone is obliged to pile up the forbidden books in front of their house, and soon we see hundreds of thousands of books written on bamboo tablets or paper, being deposed outside, where they form enormous heaps. Many scholars cannot bear it and commit suicide. Those who, like I, have tears in their eyes, cover them for fear of being detected as ‘Confucian’.
Before dawn the next morning officials, followed by large carts and servants, come to gather the books and take them to a central square. Simultaneously other officials and policemen enter the houses of the scholars to search every nook and cranny; even the gardens are dug up. Though most people have obeyed the Imperial Edict for fear of such a search or of being denounced by neighbours, it is amazing to see how many scholars have attempted to evade the new law. Theirs will be a horrible fate. Many are publicly beheaded or buried alive, while thousands of others are formed into convict gangs and marched off in long columns to the distant northern border, the black brand of infamy on their forehead, a red criminal’s cap on their head, and nearly choked by a heavy collar-iron.
That evening the sky turns crimson as the immense piles of books are burning. They burn for three days and nights, then darkness falls over the Empire of Qin.
We now know that Qin Shihuangdi’s reign as Emperor only lasted eleven years. How many years will Mao Zedong rule? The Qin Emperor at least laid the foundation for our state system which endured for two thousand years. What will remain of Maoism and for how long?”
* * * *
After the burning of my books not much time was left me for reflection. Red Guards came to fetch me and some of my colleagues. We were loaded onto a truck which took us to the railway-station. There we were put under heavy guard to board a train which was heading for an unknown destination somewhere in the northwest.
Square of Heavenly Peace, 1st October 1966
I wave at the crowd. This is a repeat performance of the Red Guards’ march of 18 August, but how much has happened since then! I had known this all along, I had seen it in my dreams. Masses of young people, who are like blank paper on which I can write whatever comes to my mind, who will do whatever I ask of them. With these youngsters I am overthrowing the old.
I have made them my little generals and they have already proven a powerful weapon in my hands. In six weeks’ time the whole country has been turned upside down and my enemies shiver. This is only the beginning.
Hundreds of thousands of Red Guards in their blue and khaki uniforms with red armlets, cheering and waving their little red books, are marching past. The brass band of the People’s Liberation Army plays ‘The East Is Red’, Lin Biao is at my side. Behind me are Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Kang Sheng, the pitiful Liu Shaoqi and Chen Yi.
None of them feels at ease any more, for they are fully alive to the possibility that the revolution could turn against them any moment. Some live in mortal fear, especially of course Liu Shaoqi. All around the square balloons float high in the air, with long streamers on which slogans are written: ‘Long Live Our Great Teacher , Great Leader, Great Commander-in-Chief and Great Helmsman Chairman Mao’, ‘Long Live The People’s Republic Of China’ and ‘Long Live The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’. The roles are reversed now. Some leaders wanted to humiliate me and ignored my wishes. Now everyone behaves towards me with slavish submissiveness, fear and the deepest awe. The Emperor has taken the reins in his hands again. Everything is going according to plan.
This Liu Shaoqi… he always seemed such a deadly dull fellow, the sort of man who would create the party bureaucracy and would always strictly toe the party-line. Until, that is, he began to think too much of himself. His booklet on how a good communist should behave, for example: he had it printed and distributed in millions of copies. That was not at all to my liking.
Then, after he became Chairman (President) of the Republic, he began to give himself airs and to behave even more independently, as if he did not know that there is only one real Chairman in China: I myself! It is obvious that this traitor wants to replace me. So he is doomed to death but I shall play with my pet puppet Liu for a while yet and hold out false hope to him.
Our great strategist Sun Zi already wrote in his The Art of War :
‘To a surrounded enemy you must leave a way of escape’, and the commentary says: ‘Show him there is a road to safety and so create in his mind the idea that there is an alternative to death. Then strike!’
Therefore I invited Liu Shaoqi to come and see me at a time when he and his family were being viciously attacked from every quarter. I received him cordially. Liu said he had made many mistakes, so he wanted to resign and settle on a farm somewhere far away. I was amazed and looked at this man, this enemy, tarnished, sunk to the lowest level, a gravely wounded predator. Did he really not see that he had lost the right to live, that horrible sufferings still awaited him? To become a farmer and enjoy life? How on earth did he get that into his head, the fool?
“You must read and study diligently, my dear Shaoqi,” I said kindly. “Read, and take good care of your health.”
He left buoyed up by this visit and full of good hopes. He saw an alternative to death. And then we struck. The Red Guards invaded his home and the real fight against him started.
As for Zhou Enlai, I shall still need him for keeping the country more or less intact during the political and economic earthquakes I cause from time to time. I don’t like him much, he is too smooth, too well-bred and well-mannered, and too much loved by the people. If Jiang Qing could have her way, his fate would be sealed. But he does not represent a risk to my position; he does not aspire to it, and in any case he needs me even more than I need him. For him it is a matter of survival: one word from me and this elegant Mandarin is branded a right opportunist and expelled from the Party. During the past year the cultural revolution has nicely warmed up. Here, in my villas in Hangzhou, Wuhan and Shanghai, I receive numerous reports from Peking and other places about this ‘hot summer’ of 1967. Amidst the comfort and the many pleasures that are available to me here, I follow with great interest the violent outbursts which are taking place in the whole country. They stimulate me sexually too. Contradictions, contrasts have always fascinated me. The party leaders do not know anymore where they stand, for nobody knows how far I shall loosen the reins. I am letting Jiang Qing and the cultural revolution group in Peking have their way, and I read the reports without committing myself.
Red Guards have invaded Liu Shaoqi’s office and pulled out his telephone lines. From the tent-camp which the rebels have erected outside the leadership compound of Zhongnanhai their loudspeakers were broadcasting night and day a maddening, deafening noise and pouring out a stream of accusations and invective over President Liu and other leaders. Finally the Red Guards, not hindered by the security personnel, stormed Liu’s house inside the compound.
The head of state and his wife were pulled by their hair, beaten in the face and kicked, forced to stand in the painful ‘jet’-position, while officers and men of the central garrison corps were looking on. Liu had already made numerous self-criticisms but they were not considered sufficient and he was further tortured.
In the end Zhou Enlai succeeded in lifting the siege of Zhongnanhai which had by then lasted several months. Liu is now a paria, two of his children have been arrested as Soviet spies and his elegant, well-educated wife, against whom the jealous Jiang Qing bears a grudge, has been terribly humiliated.
Chen Yi and Zhou Enlai are now also being pressed hard. That is alright, fear is the best guarantee for obedience. They must remain puppets which I can set in motion from a distance.
The Red Guards often take drastic and cruel action and they make many victims. But that is after all inherent in a revolution. Let them beat people up and burn books. The intellectuals and other rightists must be treated harshly but not all must be killed, because by working hard in the ‘reform-through-labour’ camps they can still be of some use. Naturally many have perished but I do not grieve for them.
At a Party Congress I praised the First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, for honouring the new and disparaging the old. Lin Biao then remarked that the Qin Emperor burned the Confucian books and buried the scholars alive, whereupon I sarcastically asked what was so special about that:
“He only had 460 scholars buried alive,” I said, “while we have buried 46.000 of them… We’ve surpassed him a hundred times.” The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution has taken on surprising forms and known unexpected turns. I have now ordered the workers and peasants to participate in this revolution. Groups of rebels who are fighting each other while waving my red book, leaders who are completely baffled, workers who are dissatisfied, I watch them all from afar, steer a little this way and that way, appear again in public to let myself be seen and cheered, and quickly disappear again from the Peking scene, leaving all of them behind in confusion and insecurity.
When I was ‘little Liang’ (Xiao Liang), my mother and Lihua taught me that the greatest bliss would be to become a soldier of Chairman Mao. In the kindergarten and primary school this was also impressed on us. As a young boy I already dreamed that I would later perform heroic deeds for Chairman Mao and would be proclaimed a model for others to follow.
Then something dreadful happened. I had just become twelve, and applied for membership of the Communist Youth League, when the party secretary of the school called me in:
“How dare you enter your name for an organisation in which you do not belong at all! You, with an American imperialist as father and a bourgeois-capitalist background, you ought to know your place. You will have to provide a lot of evidence yet of a radically changed mentality before we can even think about accepting you.”
I felt as if the earth had opened up beneath my feet and my whole world seemed to break up into thousands of pieces. An American father? It could not be true! But if the party secretary said so, it must be.
“I’m sorry, please forgive me,” I muttered several times, covering my face with my hands for shame, and went away. I dared not let my classmates set eyes on me. They would all point at me:
“Black traitor, dirty American imperialist.”
I was forever branded as non-Chinese, an enemy alien, the son of an imperialist. Blindly I walked round in the city, time and again brushing away my tears.
After hours of roaming about, I finally stumbled back home, dead-tired, pulling my cap down for fear of being recognised and jeered at by the neighbours. Could I ever show my face again, the face of an imperialist rotten egg? Trembling all over my body I entered the house. Lihua was washing up the dishes.
“You can clear away,” she said. My hands shook and I dropped a rice-bowl.
“What’s the matter with you, Liang?” Lihua asked. I burst into tears.
When I told her and asked:
“Do I really have an American father, an imperialist? That’s not true, is it, tell me it isn’t!”, she answered:
“Yes, it’s true. It would have been better if your mother had told you herself. She felt a deep shame when it had happened and didn’t want to have the baby.”
“She didn’t want to have me?”
Again I felt the ground sink from beneath my feet. My own mother’s ashamed of me too! It was a terrible feeling and that very moment I decided to end my life.
“That’s not what I meant,” Lihua hushed, “it wasn’t really about you, you were not yet born.”
I didn’t want to hear any more and ran away. That day remains engraved on my mind as the blackest of my life. One train after another passed by but I lacked the courage to throw myself down in front of it. So I was a coward too. How I got home, worn out, I cannot remember. I do know that I flew out at my mother in a rage when she began to speak about my American father. Lihua had told her what had happened to me.
“How could you lie to me all those years? And how could you get a child from an imperialist in the first place?”
When my mother explained everything, and especially when she spoke with vehemence about the hatred of America that consumed her she removed some of my deep pain.
From that day on I devoted myself even more grimly to the Party and against imperialism, against America. My class-mates had not, thank Heaven, been informed of my shameful status. In my class I hung the portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin beside a much larger one of Mao Zedong which my mother had helped me buy. Every day we bowed to them and prayed for a long life for Chairman Mao. I also wrote in my best script (frankly, aided by my mother) party slogans which I hung on the walls. At last I was accepted by the Youth League, and there I soon became a ringleader. Now I’m proud of my mother who as a journalist is playing an active role in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. I’m taking part in it too! In my middle school we have formed a team which has joined the Red Guards of Tsinghua university. I’m fully convinced that China will always remain behind the rest of the world if it doesn’t renew itself radically. All forms of exploitation, backwardness and superstition must be eradicated. We were given addresses of rightist and reactionary traitors, and were busy day and night raiding their houses, destroying all suspicious objects and arresting the owners. For a change we sometimes would rush into a shop and smash every object we considered bourgeois. We were flushed with victory and power.
Chairman Mao himself had ordered us to destroy the ‘Four Old’, everything that had to do with the old capitalist society. When we saw people in the street wearing capitalist clothes we’d give them a sound thrashing. In the streets I also saw scenes which I disapproved of: old people being pushed, kicked and spat at by young brutes and then compelled to kneel down and confess crimes which they may never have committed.
For me and the hundreds of thousands of Red Guards who can now freely and gratuitously travel all over China, this is a wonderful and exhilarating time. We feel we’re lord and master wherever we go.
During an exchange visit to Shanghai my group took part in revolutionary actions of the local Red Guards. We set on fire a large library which burned beautifully. It excited me to destroy all those costly old books which my grandfather and ancestors had venerated. It was time to get rid of all that old rubbish. China must make a totally new beginning. Its youth has taken over all power! I felt dizzy, my head swam.
I picked up a violin which had also been thrown on the heap. A comrade wrenched the instrument which seemed in good condition from my hands and threw it onto the pyre.
When we sat again on the train taking us back to Peking, or rather stood, for it was crammed, I began asking myself whether in fact it wouldn’t be more important to change people’s mentality than to get rid of their property. Even now I still see that violin. Why did it have to go? Is music bad for the revolution? I always love to hear Mother play the violin: Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky. She’s very proficient and her play often moves me. Is emotion a bourgeois feeling which I must eradicate? I don’t know. For the first time I’m beginning to feel uncertain. What about my mother, do I love her? I think I do, but there are moments when I hate her and wished that Li-hua were my mother and that I had a proletarian Chinese father. Deep down I still feel ashamed of my half-American origin.
I can’t understand that my cousin Wuling, who is a hundred percent Chinese, is such a lukewarm boy, who thinks more about making a diplomatic career than about these exciting events. Uncle Paul, whom I admire as a wise and important man, is also unfortunately much less fervent than my mother. She’s a match for any man in her revolutionary activity.
After I’d written all this down, we received shocking news: Grandfather’s books were burnt and he was arrested and taken away to some camp. My thoughts and feelings are in a turmoil. He was not part of the ‘Four Old’ which we are told to destroy! At his age he’s not an active revolutionary, of course, but he’s always had the right ideas and the young students love him. I’m now forced to admit that some, or even many, Red Guards are making serious mistakes. This is bad for the revolution.
Every day I see the Prime Minister he looks thinner and paler than before, and his supple, almost cat-like movements accentuate more than ever his physical frailty. Yet he continues to display his habitual unbridled energy. It is purely spiritual force that drives him on and keeps him going. Zhou Enlai is deeply worried about the general frenzy which is spreading everywhere, with the result that government agencies cannot function properly and industrial production is threatened.
“The revolution is a good thing, I wholly support it. But not in this way. If this is not stopped, Baozheng,” said Zhou, “then everything we have built up during many years of hard work will be destroyed. That makes no sense, and it has nothing to do with revolution.”
“Everyone is worried,” I agreed, “but hardly anybody has the courage to say so openly. In every quarter there is fear.”
Zhou nodded. He knew only too well what many had to suffer from the reign of terror. We daily received heaps of letters and visits from people who beseeched the premier to help them or their relatives and friends. Only in exceptional cases was he able to do something for them.
The situation everywhere is chaotic. Revolutionary committees are now being formed consisting of the revolutionary rebels/guards, the army and the revolutionary cadres (i.e. mainly the old party cadres). The aim of this so-called ‘Triple Alliance’ clearly is to water down the influence of the extreme left. The army becomes the most powerful factor everywhere. All this is, of course, hardly accepted by the rebels. Bloody battles are raging between peasants, workers and soldiers on one side and Maoist rebels on the other, but also, as before, between rebel-groups which combat each other. The confusion is complete, China has become a madhouse.
Even the members of the government are not spared. After an ‘interrogation-session’ which lasted forty days the Minister of Coal Industry succumbed to the whip-lashes and other tortures which he had undergone. Three hundred Red Guards have occupied the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and renewed their attack against the Minister, Marshal Chen Yi. Premier Zhou managed to put an end to the occupation, but they left him no peace. Two weeks later, in an outburst of rage concerning alleged anti-Chinese actions in Hong Kong, the rebels set alight the British Embassy in Peking and Zhou could only see to it that human lives were spared. Father has physically got over the tortures he suffered at Beida but the humiliations which the young rebel students have made him undergo continue to cause him great pain and anguish, even plunging him into abysmal depressions. Loss of face is one of the worst things that can happen to us Chinese. To make an elderly professor undergo such abominable abasement in his own university is an indescribable act of cruelty.
And that is not his only grief. He had to keep smiling when he learned that his wife was suffering from a terminal disease. And when she was told about it the always sprightly Yuxin lost her will to fight; during those last weeks before her death she leaned completely on her husband.
As often as I can I go to see my father. Naturally we discuss the political developments which are uppermost in our mind but I find he withdraws more and more to his historical studies of the Qin and Han dynasties:
“You know, Paul, this is even worse than the Qin,” he said the other day. “They were cruel, but straightforward, publicly proclaiming their cynical, inhuman philosophy. Maoism is just as cruel, but it’s made up of lies; words have lost their meaning and their brazen hypocrisy is unbearable.”
Now Red Guards have broken into the houses of a number of scholars and burned their books. I had worked until late that night in the office of our indefatigable premier. As soon as I heard the ghastly news, I hastened to my father’s house, hoping that he had been spared.
Things were bad beyond my wildest fears. Not only had his house been looted from top to bottom and all his books burned, but Father was also gone! When I interrogated the neighbours they did not dare at first to answer my questions but at last the truth was out: after the burning of the books my father and some other professors had been handcuffed and abducted by the rebels who had taken them to an unknown destination.
I was horrified. Father had survived that first dreadful camp but this blow could well finish him. The atrocities I had witnessed made me fear the worst. I shuddered at the thought of what he must be going through. May tried to enlist the help of her leftist friends but to no avail. Zhou Enlai showed me his warm sympathy but even he was powerless.
And our misfortunes did not end there. Soon after Father was abducted, one of May’s colleagues came to me with shocking news about my sister. A truck with Red Guards of a hostile faction and their prisoners had drawn up that morning in front of her newspaper office.
“Sun Baomei, you are arrested for having committed counter-revolutionary activities,” they had snarled at her.
“But that’s absurd. You are mistaken! I have never undertaken anything against the Party,” she had protested.
“How dare you go against the Cultural Revolution?”
The leader gave a sign, and two strong bullies hit her with clubs until she lay on the ground groaning with pain. She was kicked and thrown into the truck. None of the other prisoners, among whom a journalist of her own paper, dared look at her, all sat with their heads bent.
I moved heaven and earth to try to obtain her release and beseeched the Premier to help her though I knew there was nothing he could do. He gave me a look of compassion and lifted his hands in a helpless gesture.
It was a desperate situation. I imagined the frightful abuse to which those gangsters might submit my beloved sister. Her son Liang, our son Wuling, Fanglin and I myself were now also in danger.
The only thing Zhou achieved was to find out who had denounced May: it was her friend Lihua! I had never liked her. I always felt that she was jealous of May, who did not notice and considered her a good friend. They had lived together for years practically without a quarrel. But Lihua was not bright and her only advantage was her pure proletarian background. Her job was a very modest one and I’m sure it rankled in her mind that May was so successful. But how infamous, to accuse May falsely of anti-Party activities. The treacherous bitch, I could wring her neck! Zhou Enlai is trying to reduce further the role of the Red Guards; the situation had got so much out of hand that Mao supports him on this.
The railways in the whole of China have been overstrained by the transportation of millions of young people who are allowed to travel freely, without permits or tickets. Everyone wants to see Peking and especially Chairman Mao. Now free travel by train, ship or bus is no longer possible and all the young revolutionaries from outside Peking must leave the city forthwith. Also, long hiking tours for the young revolutionaries are being organised during the winter months in imitation of the famous Long March, in order ‘to enhance their political consciousness’ but in reality to be rid of them for a time.
Mao Zedong continues to play a double game by supporting both the extreme elements (Jiang Qing and her partisans) and the moderates (such as Zhou Enlai). Now the attacks against Zhou have been resumed. Several of the Prime Minister’s trusted collaborators have been removed. When will my turn come?
Fanglin and I are in constant danger. During the day I imagine coming home from the office and finding the house looted and Fanglin gone, and at night we sit together in silence, waiting for the all-powerful little brutes. I admire Fanglin who, faced with immediate danger, is not nervous any more, and shows great courage and poise — a veritable Mandarin’s daughter.
If, so far, we have not been seriously attacked, I wonder whether we have to thank our proletarian occupants for it. Twice already a group of Red Guards entered our compound but the workers, whose insufferable presence here we feel so keenly, roughly warded them off. Is it because they consider us ‘their’ rightists, their private victims?
By now it is crystal-clear to everyone that Mao’s main aim has been to liquidate President Liu Shaoqi and to concentrate all power in his own hands.
But even Mao Zedong apparently realizes now that the chaos and lawlessness that prevail all over the country must be ended. And once he comes to a decision he is merciless and hard as nails: suddenly the Chairman has dropped his ‘little generals’ who worship him and gave themselves unreservedly to him, without a word of thanks or appreciation. On the contrary, while addressing a group of leading Red Guards, he complained that they had failed:
“You have not lived up to my expectations (-). You have disappointed the workers, peasants and soldiers of China.” The Red Guards and Rebels are being sent down en masse to the countryside and put to work in people’s communes and agricultural enterprises of the army, ‘to learn from the poor peasants and the army’.
With the aid of these young revolutionaries Mao has reached his main goals: his alleged opponent Liu Shaoqi and his friends have been eliminated and the Chairman reigns supreme. He does not need the young people any more, so they can go.
The army has become the decisive factor in China. Lin Biao, the Minister of Defence, has appointed his trusted lieutenants in high positions and his power has considerably increased, but so has that of those military commanders who are not on his side. When I returned from a service trip on which I had accompanied Premier Zhou, there was a dreadful message awaiting me: my father had come home from the labour camp but had been so weakened that he had collapsed.
I found him dead in his bare, ransacked house3. He had left a short note and his Diary for us in which he recounts the harrowing tale of his experiences and draws striking parallels with the rule of the Qin Emperor. He believed or knew that he had lived in that period. I read and read but my eyes filled with tears and I had to wipe them repeatedly before I could read on:
… I am falling, the earth caves in, a terror grips me, the heavy mud-load weighs down on my eyes, penetrates my nose and mouth. I cannot breathe, and I hear the strangled cries and sobs of hundreds of victims, while the earth falls down on us and buries us alive.
“To experience once again, now, in Mao Zedong’s China, what befell me so long ago, is worse than all the other tortures I have endured. This bad dream is recurring all the time. I am writing it all down, hoping thus to banish the nightmare, although I fear it will be in vain. The ultimate humiliation that awaits me here — to die in slavery — is not far off, I sense it clearly.”
I was moved by a deep sense of pity for my father and for all of the Chinese people who have known so many centuries of suffering. Father dead…, he who had been a beacon and source of light for us all. It’s a black day for me and for our family. Everything that we had hoped for and expected from the ‘Liberation’ has ended in misery, and it seems the end is not yet in sight. Peace and stability are long-forgotten words.
The most sensational and scandalous public event in September 1971 was the treason and subsequent flight, ending in his death, of… Lin Biao, Minister of Defence, Commander-in-Chief of the People’s Liberation Army, vice-chairman of the Party, and designated as closest comrade-in-arms of Chairman Mao and his successor.
Lin Biao’s plotters apparently existed in the three branches of the armed forces but especially, it was discovered, in the air force. After Lin Biao’s fall it looked as if the epoch of the ‘warlords’ had come back, and it was mainly thanks to Zhou Enlai’s diplomacy and excellent relations with the military that they were brought back into line.
The general chaos has after all had one favourable result: May has been freed by a rival group of Red Guards and it was a great joy to welcome her back. But joy mingled with sorrow about Father. She was deeply moved by his death and by the text which he had left behind.
May looks terrible. The revolutionary rebels had cut one half of her hair and beaten and kicked her so badly that she had hardly been able to carry each day the heavy load of stones from one end of the field to the other. She is now reading Father’s diary and her reaction is violent.
What she finds most difficult to bear is the betrayal of the revolution in which she had unreservedly believed, the betrayal by the leaders whom she had fully trusted, admired and followed. Her revolution which had promised a total renewal has, it seems to her, turned China back to a reactionary system that existed two thousand years ago. She cannot yet accept that Chairman Mao himself is guilty, that his bid for absolute power has made a monster of him, but she has lost her faith in Communism and this has plunged her into a profound psychological crisis. Her greatest personal worry had been that her son Liang would come to harm. We were only able to tell her that he and many other Red Guards had been sent down to the countryside to work under the strict discipline of army officers. From those parents who did receive news from their children we learned that there is great bitterness among all the young revolutionaries who feel they have been sacrificed and cast off like old rags.
In my father’s Diary I read:
The anxious question forces itself on us: are we going two thousand years back in time? Does everything we have acquired in twenty centuries in the way of culture, of human values, have to be destroyed again? At present, like in Qin times, the country is being forged into a unit to be ruled by one cruel despot, and again, like then, the age-old virtues of humanity and justice are thrown overboard. Mao Zedong’s megalomania surpasses that of all preceding Emperors. During the Qin dynasty high moral principles were replaced by cold, calculating realism, brute force and the lust of power of one man; in the ‘new’ China their substitute is the hatred of the ‘class-struggle’ which breaks down people by psychological means and violence under the hypocritical pretence of ‘serving the people’ — in reality once again to satisfy one man’s craving for absolute power. Of the First Divine Emperor and his legalist philosophers it can at least be said that they were frank and did not hide their aims under a cloak. Mao Zedong, on the contrary, passes himself off as an idealist, a Saviour, and he galvanizes people with fierce slogans and false promises. It has become clear to me that a dictatorship based on a fanatical, fundamentalist religion or ideology makes mankind suffer infinitely more than a straightforward dictatorial regime that has no such pretences.
After two tumultuous years the time has come to put an end to the power of the Red Guards and Revolutionary Rebels. I do not need them anymore.
It will be a useful experience for them to ‘eat bitterness’ in the mountains and in the barren countryside where they will be reformed by the poor peasants and the army. With one single gesture I have dismissed those millions of little puppets who thought they were all-powerful.
My purpose has been fulfilled: in October 1968 the Central Committee has formally expelled Liu Shaoqi from the Party and discharged him from all his offices. Everybody has obediently signed the documents. Liu has become a wreck. That is what happens to those who oppose me.
The disgrace brought upon me by the Eighth Party Congress which tried to reduce my power has now also been erased completely. The Ninth Party Congress in April 1969 complied with all my wishes and elected a Central Committee that is wholly subservient to me. I reign supreme. Lin Biao has been confirmed in his position of my ‘closest comrade-in-arms’ and successor.
Chaos-order-chaos-order. We need more order in the country but it must not be an inflexible and permanent order: the cycle of change must always be continued. The Daoists and Buddhists already knew this, but theirs was not a political philosophy. I am making use of Marxist-Leninist theories and my own brand of Chinese political concepts. Now my adversaries have been eliminated, the people’s communes — my pet project — restored, even raised to a higher level, and in education precedence will rightly be given to ‘red’ over ‘expert’ in conformity with Mao Zedong Thought, which is now again the leading ideology of the nation.
This ideology has remained purest in the army with my peasant boys. The army will maintain order the way I want it done. The whole country must be militarised, all work will be done collectively and with military discipline as in the glorious days of Yenan.
That is not possible without tension. Our relations with the Soviet Union have worsened, so I say: that country threatens us with war! The people will accept that argument. Criss-cross through Peking and soon in all other great cities underground tunnels and shelters against a nuclear attack are being dug. Underground electric power-stations, installations for the supply of heating, air and water, hospitals, command-posts, all of these are constructed to survive an attack! A similar complex is being built under my villa in Hangchou. It has to be done in the open and with full publicity in order to heighten tension and strengthen unity. I do not expect a Soviet attack at all; the measures we are taking are purely a form of psychological warfare and useful for internal use.
Humanly speaking no danger threatens me anymore since my enemies have been destroyed. Yet doubts still prey on my mind. One of them concerns Lin Biao who has gradually risen to a truly dazzling height. Will he remain loyal to me? Or is he busy building up a kingdom of his own? He has filled important military posts with his supporters and his son. I myself am now surrounded by even more military guards than ever before and I get the oppressive feeling that I am at their, and through them at Lin Biao’s, mercy. Ever since that affair of the bugging equipment eight years ago I regularly have inspections made to see whether secret microphones have been installed. But can I trust the technical inspectors?
Now it begins to look as if my earlier fears were justified. Lin Biao appears indeed to have great, too great ambitions. Is it on account of his addiction to morphine or the influence of his ambitious wife? In the middle of 1970 during the second plenum of the Ninth Party Congress in Lushan he started manoeuvring to restore the post of Chairman (President) of the Republic which he himself aspires to. I saw through his designs and had his accomplice Chen Boda removed from the Politburo. As to Lin Biao himself, I have to tread more cautiously in view of the power-base he has built up in the army.
As a precaution I have reduced the role of my bodyguards; who knows whether they are not in Lin’s service. I also dismissed the three pretty young women of the cultural group of the air force who used to attend me in many ways, for I cannot trust them. Only the former train-stewardess Jade Phoenix (Zhang Yufeng) still attends to my needs. Two reliable women from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs now act as intermediary; all visitors first have to report to them and all documents are brought to me and taken back by them. One of them often acts as interpreter.
Zhou Enlai made a good suggestion, viz. to reinstate the former system of rotating commands which was to prevent generals acquiring too much local power. In this way I was able to transfer Lin Biao’s supporters one after another without directly attacking them.
Then I fell seriously ill and I was convinced Lin Biao was behind it. I received more signals that a plot was being hatched. It appeared that Lin’s son had formed secret groups in the air force to prepare my downfall.
As soon as I had recovered I decided to visit the army’s regional commanders in order to secure their loyalty and support. In ‘confidential’ talks in Shanghai, Wuhan, Changsha, Nanchang and Hangzhou I hinted that during the recent conference in Lushan a certain person had made an attempt to become President of the Republic, someone who intended to sow discord in the Party and make a grab for power. The military commanders needed no further explanation to understand that I referred to Lin Biao. With this action I forced a denouement.
Hardly had we returned to Peking, when it was reported that Lin Biao, his wife and their son had fled in a Trident of the Air Force. The aircraft which apparently was heading for the Soviet Union had crashed somewhere in the Mongolian People’s Republic and its crew and passengers were all dead. He had probably panicked when Chen Boda’s purge and the contents of my talks which of course had not remained secret had made him understand that I knew what he was up to.
Zhou Enlai directed the investigation. As long as the danger existed that Lin Biao’s supporters would make an attempt on my life I stayed hidden in the Great Hall of the People, surrounded by my security guards. There I always had at my disposal the luxurious Room 118 (the Beijing Room) which years ago had been fitted up for my amorous exploits. After a nightmarish week during which I anxiously awaited further events but had to remain outwardly imperturbable, many partisans of Lin Biao were under arrest and there appeared to be no direct risk anymore, so I returned to Zhongnanhai.
But this affair has plunged me into a hellish depression. There is treason everywhere! That man Lin Biao whom I proclaimed as my closest comrade-in-arms and successor, the man who praised me to high heavens, that man hated me and wanted to kill me. His wife, his son, a great number of officers of the army and the air force who pretended to worship me, they were all involved in this criminal plot.
It has made me ill. My bronchitis and other ailments have all come back. All of a sudden I feel years older, my legs are swollen, I walk with difficulty, my breathing and speaking are impaired and I suffer again from insomnia. For several months I have stayed in bed and I have had plenty of time to think. If I had not finally followed my intuition I would have been finished.
Had Lin Biao concluded a secret pact with the Soviet leaders? Khrushchev and his lot would have been only too glad to be rid of me. By supporting Lin they could without striking a single blow have achieved their aim: to extend their hegemony over the People’s Republic of China!
When Zhou Enlai recently reported to me on Lin Biao’s plot and on our relations with the Soviet Union he suggested that we should differentiate our policies more with regard to foreign countries. He quoted from the classical Book of Poetry:
‘Be kind to people from afar and tolerant to those nearby.’
The behaviour of our neighbour, the Soviet Union, has long transgressed our degree of tolerance and it was clear to whom Zhou wanted us to be kind: we should strive for better relations with the United States. That country has already put out several feelers in that direction. It suits us that they are the asking party, entangled as they’ve got in their war against the Vietnamese people. Why shouldn’t we be able to do business with Nixon? Usually I get along much better with businesslike, rightist foreigners than with those sentimental leftists. With reactionaries and capitalists I at least know where I am.
I told Enlai to go ahead cautiously with the Americans. Nobody knows the art of diplomacy better than he. My illness is lasting longer and is much more serious than I had expected. I did not have faith in all those treatments and medicines, and the injections were also very painful. For a time I had therefore sent all my doctors away. But now I allow them to treat me again for I want to be able te receive President Nixon when he comes here in February 1972.
When I was transferred from Hong Kong to Vietnam, Ruth refused to come with me and I could well understand her. Saigon would be a depressing place in the middle of a horrible war. She had pinned such high hopes on London or Paris!
On top of everything I disliked my work in the Embassy in Saigon. For one thing, I could not get on with my boss, whose line of action I often disagreed with. And there was more: American policy with regard to Vietnam seemed hopelessly wrong and ineffective to me. I was also far from happy about the means we were using to ‘save democracy’ in that country.
Therefore, when after a year I was offered a job as a journalist by one of the principal newspapers on the East Coast, I did not hesitate one minute and resigned from the Foreign Service.
Four hard years in Vietnam — three of them as a newspaper correspondent, the loss of many friends and the sight of atrocious cruelties committed in the name of ‘freedom’ have left their imprint on me and changed my outlook on life. This realisation struck me most forcibly when I was back in the States and watched Ruth busying herself with her cocktail-parties, dinners and social clubs. We had drifted so far apart that a divorce became inevitable. In my editorial office here in New York, the ever hectic atmosphere has reached a high pitch of utter confusion and nervous preparation. President Nixon is going to China. Had anyone ever thought this could happen? And I am to accompany one of our editors as part of a big media-circus which will cover this historic event! Not because I write so well — though I don’t do that so badly either — but mainly because I speak Chinese fluently and know the country. After leaving Saigon I had been stationed as a correspondent in Hong Kong for some time and closely followed the spectacular developments in China, including the insane cultural revolution and Lin Biao’s flight.
I was excited to visit China again after all those years, and as a member of President Nixon’s party! After a short stopover in Shanghai we arrived in Peking around noon. For me this was a moment of high emotion, as if after a long absence I had returned to my country of origin. Soon after, I got one suprise after another. So much had changed.
The square in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace is almost unrecognizable, of stupendous size and flanked by new colossal Stalinesque structures. The centuries-old city-walls and the colourful triumphal arches have gone, the people are uniformly dressed in monotonous blue Mao-suits, everything is different from when I lived here. I wish I had more time to explore the city further, but we are kept very busy.
In the Peking Hotel my first impulse is to phone Paul and May but I don’t even have their telephone numbers and there is no point in trying to get a connection through the operator for this is a communist country.
We are told disappointingly little about the American-Chinese talks by the press-chief Ziegler. Nixon and Kissinger always act mysteriously and play their cards close to their chest; hardly any substantial information is given out. All we have heard so far, is that Premier Zhou has given a lunch for the President and that Nixon has subsequently been received by Chairman Mao.
It is, of course, an incredible happening: an American President visiting the leader of Communist China. This year of 1972 is an historic one. Who could ever have predicted this? For years it has annoyed me that our policy-makers were wearing blinkers where China was concerned. The Soviet Union and China were still seen as members of a monolithic bloc when their controversies had long been apparent. But it is also a fact that twenty years ago it was not yet possible to base an American China policy on that rift.
At a huge dinner for the press corps one of the Chinese vice-ministers went from one table to the next and when he came to mine he said:
“I hear you speak Chinese.”
“Very badly,” I answered in his language, “but I am delighted to be back in China. Of course I would love to see my old friend Sun Baozheng again. Perhaps you know him?”
The vice-minister looked slightly embarrassed by this much too direct approach by Chinese standards, but what else could I do? I might not get another chance to make my request at such a high level.
“I know him,” he answered shortly and turned to the next person. That opportunity is lost, I thought.
The next day I got a telephone call… from Paul. He sounded very cordial and invited me to come and have an ‘inferior meal’ at their home. They still lived in their lovely house but when I arrived there in a pedicab I discovered to my dismay that the greater part of the compound was occupied by a good number of families who had made a terrible mess, scattering litter about and hanging their laundry out to dry. However, their sitting-room was tastefully decorated and I was warmly received by Paul and Fanglin.
Both had grown very thin. Fanglin was a faded beauty now, still elegant. Paul still had the same twinkling eyes and sensitive face but it was deeply lined and showed a slight nervous tic when he became emotional. One used to think, judging from their appearance, that the Chinese possessed eternal youth, but now Paul looked much older than his age. And so frail. Next to him I felt like a fat, insensitive, western plutocrat. He was as cordial and charming as before but I noticed he grew tired easily. We brought up old memories and exchanged some superficial information about our later experiences but May was not mentioned, not by Fanglin either, and I lacked the courage to ask about her. Nor were political subjects discussed, except that Paul remarked:
“Your wish to see me again was conveyed to Premier Zhou, for whom I work, and he immediately approved of our meeting. He sincerely wants President Nixon’s visit to be a success.”
After lunch Paul took me to his tiny study, the only place where he still had some privacy.
“Here we can talk quietly,” he said, “without troubling Fanglin who can’t bear hearing about the past.”
He then told me briefly about some of the horrors of the cultural revolution, and more particularly about his father’s death and the diary he had left behind.
“You’re such a dear old friend, Larry, I’d like to tell you all that we have been through but we don’t have enough time.”
Thereupon, to my astonishment, he picked up a plaster head of Mao Zedong from a table and drew two note-books from it:
“My father’s Diary and my own notes. You may have them and publish them after my death or use them in any other way. You or Carl. One day the world must know what China has suffered. And one day the Chinese themselves will have to be told the truth about that monster Mao. We shall never be free as long as he is not exposed.”
I was moved but also enough of a journalist not to be willing to wait with publication:
“Give me a break, Paul,” I said. “Why should you keep all this secret? Let me make it known to the world now.”
“No, it’s too early for that. Mao’s still alive, even if he’s seriously ill and weak. Jiang Qing and her radical partisans are still powerful. Premature publication could cause a lot of damage.”
Paul was so decided that I gave up and thanked him for the trust he put in me. The right moment seemed to have come to ask about May and I also hoped to hear something about my son. “She’s been a fervent Communist but has become profoundly disillusioned during the last four years. I asked her whether she wanted to see you, but her answer was negative. I’m sorry, Larry, but as you know, she’s proud and also deeply hurt and embittered.”
“I’m very sorry about that but I understand her. Some years ago Carl told me what she had to endure all by herself when I had left her. So I know she had a son who, from whatever angle you look at it, is also my son. Couldn’t I just see him, if need be anonymously?”
“In my opinion you have a right to, but it’s in fact impossible. Liang hangs about in Shanghai as one of the many drop-outs that the cultural revolution has produced and he leads an uncertain, hippie-like existence there. Only May knows where he can be reached. May and the Party had made a fervent communist and an America-hater of him, he’s been an active Red Guard but was later sent to one of those horrible labour camps in the countryside. He’s had a very rough time, even worse than others on account of his American connection and, like May, has totally rejected Communism. He has become cynical and disconsolate.”
I remained silent, feeling ashamed. What could I say? Not only had I fathered a son who for twenty-three years had had to cope without his father but on top of it all that man had unknowingly caused him inexpressible suffering. Would he hate me!
“It’s all terribly distressing, Paul, and I feel miserable about it. Will you at least tell May that I inquired after her and Liang, and keep hoping that I may see them one day? Tell her I would so much want to make up for some of the things I have brought about.” With my bundle of Chinese papers I returned to the hotel. That evening and during the night I read uninterruptedly without eating or drinking. I had landed in an unreal, cruel world, in a sea of misery, both contemporaneous and dating back two thousand years. Our beloved and much admired Professor Sun had experienced all these atrocities twice, as it were, in two different and yet so similar epochs. His writing and Paul’s were on the whole clear enough though there were occasionally scrawls which I could not read. But there was more than enough to make me shudder with horror.
The next morning I saw everything around me with different eyes. People in the street, Chinese and foreign journalists and cameramen, the whole Nixon-circus and the admiration everywhere for this historic event, it all looked like an almost kafkaesque, surrealistic spectacle which had no relation whatever to reality. Here they had tortured, tormented, humiliated, killed, and the torturers and killers had not yet disappeared from the scene, they had even retained great power. Huge portraits and statues of Mao Zedong still decorated town and country.
With this murderer our President was now negotiating in the most amiable fashion. It had to be done, of course. This was high politics, Realpolitik. The Chinese themselves were making brave efforts to turn their back on the horrors of the recent past, going about their present-day tasks. Of the brutalities people had endured there was hardly a sign. Everywhere a smile, not a trace of a complaint, for Chinese do not complain. But there were sharp lines in most faces, and eyes that had seen unutterable grief.
I had great trouble reflecting the atmosphere of general euphoria which surrounded the presidential visit in the reports to my paper. It was a schizophrenic experience, living in two different worlds as I was doing. Only later, when I was back in the United States, could I disengage myself from this state of mind.
* * * *
I had to wait a year and a half before I obtained another visa for China. The border had been closed for us Americans for so many years, that our media had a great need for reports on that country.
In 1973, when I went back there, a new hope of a little more freedom was in the air. The pragmatic statesman Deng Xiaoping had become vice-premier again and member of the Politburo.
But Paul told me that Mao’s health was deteriorating further, that Zhou Enlai was suffering from an early cancer, and that Jiang Qing had started a campaign against him under the slogan ‘Criticise Lin [Biao], criticise Kong [Confucius]’. In these arcane Chinese political struggles ‘Confucius’ stood for ‘Zhou Enlai’.
Much more important for me than all these political developments was what took place in my personal life. Paul had persuaded May that I should be enabled to meet Liang, and I was given his address in Shanghai!
“May would never have given her consent,” said Paul, “if Xiaoliang himself had not hinted to her that he was, after all, a bit curious about this unknown American father.”
“That’s very good news”, I said, pleased.
“Yes, but be prepared that the first contact will be far from easy. Please handle him very carefully. He may wish to meet you just once, but he does love his mother and hate the man who abandoned her. The misery he has gone through on account of his having an American father has not exactly endeared you to him either.” It was therefore with very mixed feelings that I went to Shanghai, in faded blue jeans and a hip, open-necked sports shirt. Ruth had not given me any children. Liang was my only son and I so much wanted to have him as a friend, but how infinitely distant he seemed to be. A Chinese, already 23 years old, with a whole life behind him, who had never seen me and who thought he had good reason to hate me. A boy, moreover, who had always only heard bad things about America. It seemed an impossible task to establish a good relationship with him.
He was leading a sort of hippie-like existence, Paul had told me. After my time in Vietnam I myself had wandered about with a group of hippies for a time, but had soon had enough of it. In any case, I understood and respected their mentality. With some hesitation I had brought my guitar with me. One never knew what good it might do but I did feel slightly ridiculous.
In the dingy block of flats where I rang the bell and asked for Liang I was told that he could be found in the nearby market where he was sometimes selling popcorn. After only a short search I saw a tall, long-haired youth walking along slowly, a carrying pole on his shoulder. Attached to one end of the pole was a cylinder for popping corn and a portable coal-stove; on the other was a large box bellows. His face and hands were partly black with coal dust, and yet — I realised with a shock — I clearly recognised May’s features and resolute gestures. He could not see me yet and I stopped in my tracks for a moment to observe him.
Two customers went up to him, he put down his gear and started the popping with loud explosions. When they had paid him, I went and asked him how much half a pound of popcorn cost. He looked at me, grinned, and said:
“Forty cents for a Chinese, but fifty for a foreigner.”
“That’s O.K., but I don’t quite follow your logic.”
“It’s very simple really. Foreigners have exploited and profited from China so long, now they have to pay extra.”
This remark was greeted by a murmur of approval from the bystanders who had surrounded us, drawn by the loud popping sounds and doubtless also by the sight of a foreigner. Broadly smiling they all ordered a portion for forty cents. I said that I did not wish to discuss politics with him but recognised there was some truth in what he had said. That was also well received by the crowd.
When they had gone, the popcorn-pedlar suddenly asked:
“You must be Mr. Ke Disi?”
“Yes, I’m Larry Curtis, and so you are Liang.”
“What do you want from me?”
“Nothing, I only wanted to get to know you.”
He leaned nonchalantly on the tall bellows, looking bored and indifferent:
“I’m not interested. I’ve nothing to do with you.”
“So I’ve come from Peking for nothing, I’d better go then.”
He hesitated. “Oh well, come on then, we can have a bowl of noodles, right here around the corner, before you leave.”
While eating and slurping the noodles and fatty pork, we did have an exchange of views, superficial at first, in which I told him a little about myself and he about his trade which did not bring in much, but just enough to live on. Had it not been difficult for him as a northerner to get by here? If he had not had a close Shanghai friend, he said, as tall and strong as he, who was leader of a street-gang, he would have been beaten out of the field long ago. It was a jungle here, where only the strongest survived.
I tasted the bitterness and frustration in everything he said. Study? Get a diploma? How did I get that into my head? He wouldn’t dream of it, and it was none of my damned business. Study was useless, there was no future for his generation. It made him sick to hear all those slogans and promises of the leaders, year in year out. Lies, nothing but lies.
Chairman Mao had meant well but everything had gone wrong, got out of hand. And America was just as rotten a country, even worse, with all that capitalist exploitation of the workers and persecution of the blacks. The whole world was one terrible mess. He did not believe in anything anymore, he could only try to be himself, which was difficult enough when you had not yet found your own identity.
Was this a veiled reference to his being half-American? I let it pass by. Knowing how much value is traditionally attached in China to study, I remarked that a part-time course at an evening class or through the new television-university which I had heard about, might perhaps be just the right thing for him. Study had never harmed anybody. If there was a financial problem, I’d be glad to help. But I should not have said that, he got very angry:
“I don’t need your money, American! I don’t need anybody, do you hear that?”
This was May all over, who used to insist on paying her share of the restaurant-bill. And so I did not get a chance to pay for the noodles. He had invited me, hadn’t he?
It did, however, give me an opportunity to invite him to a meal the next day which he could not refuse. During our simple dinner of rice and red-cooked fish in a small eating-place it appeared that Liang was, after all, rather curious about those mysterious United States. What interested him most, was what sort of things one could buy there and how much they cost. He was impressed. But I admitted that the U.S. was also far from perfect, and I told him something of my bitter experiences in Vietnam, the mass protests at home, my time with the hippies. He listened open-mouthed. When I said he could call me Larry he did not object, but it sounded as if it was May’s voice, more like La-li.
“Could you hold mass protest-meetings against the government?” he asked incredulously.
I explained that whatever might be wrong with my country, and I definitely did not want to make it look better than it was, we enjoyed great freedom to do as we pleased.
“Can you travel everywhere, can you even go abroad freely?”
“Yes, certainly, that’s no problem as long as you can pay for the journey”, and I told him how young people in America and Europe even managed to travel around the world with only a backpack and very little money.
Our talk turned to sport. With his uncle Paul I had played a lot of tennis and squash; he also wanted to know more about that period. Music was the next subject. To my surprise he was fairly conversant with western music.
“Your mother played the violin beautifully,” I said, “does she still play?” His face set at first, then his eyes began to shine:
“Yes, she often plays again now. I wish I’d been able to take music lessons myself.”
“I only pluck my guitar a little,” I told him.
“Guitar?” he asked excitedly. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to learn. I’ve sometimes practiced playing on a friend’s guitar in Peking.”
“I have mine in my hotel-room. Would you like to see it and try it out?”
We went there together, and he asked me to play something. I performed a piece from one of Bach’s suites.
“You play the guitar almost as beautifully as my mother the violin,” he said softly.
Abruptly he turned vehement, his angry eyes blazed at me:
“Why did you treat her so badly? God, how I’ve hated you!”
After a pause I said: “I loved your mother with all my heart, Liang, but I was young and inexperienced. I didn’t want to tie myself down yet. And I also feared that your mother might not feel happy in the United States. Oh, if only we’d got married then! It was only after I had left China that she discovered she was pregnant, and I didn’t hear about it until many years later. By then the Chinese border was closed to me as an American. I feel guilty towards your mother but you must admit that the circumstances couldn’t have been more unfavourable.”
I handed Liang the guitar, and he played a difficult Chinese tune rather well on it.
“You’re talented, Liang, you can keep it.”
“This guitar? You mean that?”
“Yes,” I said nonchalantly, “I’ve got another one in New York, and over here they are still difficult to get.”
“Thank you, La-li, I am very happy with it!” Via Peking, where I informed Paul about my meeting with Liang, I went to visit some other towns in order to get more material for my newspaper reports. After this trip I returned straight to New York. May had not let me hear from her and I also felt it would be best not to reopen old wounds. We had not seen each other in twenty-four years and it would serve no purpose to try and get in touch again. I was very glad to have met Liang and satisfied that after a stiff start we had established a reasonably good relationship. It was distressing, though, that he was leading such an empty existence and had become so cynical. About what he had gone through during the cultural revolution and in the labour camp he had not breathed a word but these events had doubtless left deep scars on his young life.
* * * *
Six months later I received a letter from Paul with a PS from May. To my great joy he wrote that my talks with Liang had apparently opened his eyes to the opportunities which were still offered to him. He had registered at the university as a medical student. His English was improving every day and he devoured any book about Europe or America which he could lay his hands on. Through May’s American friends (who were they? I wondered) he had received a number of American medical books.
“Just like May,” Paul wrote, “Liang is an absolutist: first a hundred percent Communist and now the contrary. Now only western democracy and market economy count for him. But he will always remain an idealist.”
May added a few kind words to thank me for what I had done for Liang. This, too, made me very happy.
What is life worth when all our hopes have vanished and we discover that all our ideals have rested on lies? I still find it difficult to believe in Chairman Mao’s guilt, but why, oh why did he not keep a tighter control and stem the madness? He must already have been ill for a long time. This is what Second Uncle believes. According to him, Chairman Mao had lost control and all the terrible mistakes were not made by him but by Jiang Qing and her cronies. We know, though, that Mao wasn’t all that ill and so I’m afraid Second Uncle’s reasoning is too simplistic. So is his unshaken faith in the truth of Mao Zedong Thought. We had a long talk and all the things he said now sounded like so many worn-out clichés; instead of reviving my communist faith they removed me farther from that former fountain of truth. Lin Biao, that traitor, I never trusted, but Jiang Qing had been my heroine. Never had I suspected that it was she in particular who with her supporters would create such infernal havoc.
Sometimes I think back to that first year of the cultural revolution: those millions of enthusiastically singing young people and also many older ones, who gave themselves completely for a revolution which would purge our country of all the old ways of thinking, of superstition, bourgeois egoism and exploitation! What happened to them, where did they all go?
Our hearts and minds were filled with a holy idealism. It gave us a glorious feeling of freedom and of power. We wanted to serve Chairman Mao and the people, we stirred the masses up to ever higher ideals. Under Chairman Mao’s brilliant leadership mankind would be cleansed, transformed, renewed, first in China and later all over the world. Socialism seemed within reach: equality and total freedom for all, and such abundance that everyone could be rewarded according to his needs.
It was an exhilarating period but at first also confusing for us, party-cadres: from one day to the next we were exhorted to rise and rebel against our own direct leaders. That was unheard of! We had to elect our own representatives. We who had always blindly obeyed the Party, suddenly found ourselves without anyone who could tell us what to do, anyone whom we could trust. It frightened us at times. Yet we were all soon swept off our feet by further waves of rapturous excitement and the feeling of being lifted up by the masses.
Yet after some time we came to realise that we’d have to fight a hard struggle before our great goal could be reached. Perhaps Chairman Mao had no alternative in the end, but his decision to send the Red Guards to labour camps so they could ‘learn from poor peasants’ under army supervision was a terrible blow for his formerly all-powerful ‘little generals’. The military officers treated the young students harshly and cruelly; they hated intellectuals and feared that their own ideological purity would be contaminated by them. Moreover, the hostility between different factions of Red Guards and Revolutionary Rebels was maintained even in these camps. So abominable was their lot that many took their own life or confessed crimes they had not committed, in the vain hope that they would then be released. Liang was utterly prostrated by this experience; he too saw all his ideals betrayed.
The world in which we lived has gone to pieces and nothing has taken its place; there is a vast void around us. At first I refused to believe that all the struggles, all the pain, and all the sacrifices we Communists had made for our ideals, had been for nothing. Even in the most painful circumstances our hopes had remained alive.
Only very gradually it began to dawn on me that I had fought for the wrong cause. I had trustfully obeyed a Party which based itself on mendacious principles, a Party which had not aimed at freedom and equality of the citizens at all, but had striven for power, absolute power for the leaders who oppressed the common people, deprived them of their freedom, brainwashed them into helpless puppets, and set one person against the other under the mask of ‘class-struggle’.
I had long been active, fascinated by what was going on, and now I’m completely listless, nothing interests me anymore. All that remains is bitterness about the lies of Communism and the betrayal by the party leaders. I would have committed suicide long ago if I had not still hoped to be able to help Liang. Not that I have much hope. He says that he loves me but does not listen to my advice and keeps fooling around in Shanghai with some dubious characters. Comrades you cannot call them, he hasn’t got those anymore. Oh, he is so lonely and unhappy, and there is nothing I can do for him. Father’s Diary has shattered me. He, with his gentle character and progressive ideas, why was he persecuted and broken? The parallels he drew between the Qin Emperor and Chairman Mao sent a cold shudder through me. Was Mao Zedong guilty after all, could he have solely been lusting for power? If it’s true, I just do not want to believe it. Paul recognises that at least in the beginning Mao was not concerned only with his own supremacy but was also driven by his ideal to build a better future for his country. That is apparent too, I think, from his writings and deeds.
But Paul argues that gradually his lust for power, as he calls it, became the predominant factor and that his ideals were adapted, distorted and sacrificed to it. When with the Great Leap and the Cultural Revolution Mao caused the loss of life of millions of people without shedding a tear, one could hardly speak of ideals, Paul asserts, and he concludes that to Mao the people were not human beings but laboratory animals which he used in his great experiments to transform the world and confirm him in his role of autocratic ruler.
Father writes about the dreadful burning of the books during the Qin dynasty: “That evening the sky turns crimson as the immense piles of books are burning. They burn for three days and nights, then darkness falls over the Empire of Qin.”
Here darkness has fallen too. When will there ever be light again?
* * * *
I am consumed by an intense feeling of guilt for the part I have played in the cultural revolution. I have tried to visit Yao, my former editor, and ask his forgiveness but he did not want to receive me. I know that similar feelings are gnawing at Liang’s heart and that he attempts to mask them by his apparent indifference.
For a long time I have been very worried about him but now, thank Heaven, the future looks brighter again. After his talks with Larry he has come to realise that he should pull himself together and take positive action. At the university which fortunately, after ten years, has opened its doors again he has enrolled at the faculty of medicine. He wants to become a doctor! In a confidential mood he told me:
“I have injured people, now I want to heal wounds.”
Paul has written Larry to tell him the good news and thank him. I have added a post-scriptum; it cost me an effort, yet it had to be done, for a service rendered must be reciprocated. But this does not change my position that Larry and I should not see each other ever again.
Liang was telling me with such verve about his dream of a new, democratic China and life in the West about which he reads a lot, that I saw all at once what I had to do. Liang was young and had gained fresh courage, he might still live to see democratic government here, but for me it was too late. China had wounded me too much. I wanted to start a new life, far away from this country, but where? Here in Peking I made the acquaintance of a very nice American couple with whom I had many talks and who gave me things to read about the United States.
Thus the desire arose to try my luck in that country where so many had sought a better future. It would naturally be no paradise either but it was a land of great opportunities and possibilities. What appealed to me most was the absolute contrast with what we had experienced here during the last years. There complete openness and freedom, here secrecy, deception and oppression. Over there I could perhaps become a normal being again. Liang was now able to make his own way, he did not need me anymore. And so I soon decided to take the plunge and applied for a passport and a visa.
Since President Nixon’s visit to China, relations between our two countries have greatly improved. In the United States there is an increased interest in China and so my friends succeeded in getting me a job at the university in New York where I shall give Chinese lessons and do translations. After a wait of nearly one year the visa was granted.
Paul, Fanglin and Liang accompanied me to the airport. I was touched by their presents: some Chinese books (even a cookery-book), a new dressing-case (Fanglin had noticed how worn mine was, which they took back with them) and a lovely jade brooch from Liang. It was a heart-stirring farewell, for when — if ever — would we see each other again? They all planned to stay in China but Liang was hoping to be able to visit me one day. Paul had told me that Fanglin didn’t want to leave the country and that he himself could not make up his mind about such a radical change anyway. New York was a fairy-tale, beautiful and exciting, a revelation. But everything was so overwhelming that it scared me a little and made me uncertain. The people I got to know, both in and outside of the university, were all helpful and hospitable but it took me a while before I was able to adapt myself to the rhythm of this hectic metropolis.
In the beginning I did not know what to do with my freedom; others had always thought and acted for me. This was a city of opportunity, but only for those who showed personal initiative. Only gradually did I learn to take any initiative myself. I worked hard and also resumed my violin-playing which always sets my mind at rest when I’m tense.
* * * *
I had been in the States nearly six months and begun to feel more or less at home, when in one of the long corridors of Columbia University I came across someone who addressed me by my name. It was Larry, whom I had not seen in twenty-five years. Paul had shown him a photograph of me in Peking, otherwise he might not have recognised me either. He had visited an acquaintance in the Chinese Department and was on his way to the cafeteria. Had I had lunch yet? Then we could perhaps have a bite together and a chat, he said lightly. I had shrunk from meeting him but now it did nothing to me.
We talked about life in New York and each other’s work. I said he had had a favourable influence on Liang.
“What news do you get from him?”
“Only good. He writes cheerfully, and Paul tells me he’s a brilliant student, getting the highest marks in all subjects.”
Just once Larry briefly looked at me the way he used to, and when I heard his voice and saw the familiar gestures I momentarily felt a very faint stirring inside me — as of a string, but without a bow, just a light pizzicato.
After this encounter we saw one another occasionally or telephoned. It grew into a pleasant, friendly relationship and eventually he became a sort of brother to me whom I could always ask for advice. He has a good-looking girl-friend with a great sense of humour and we all sometimes eat out together.
There were, of course, men who made overtures but I have absolutely no need of a steady relationship. The last thing I want is being tied down. My work is pleasant, I am independent, I have many friends and New-York has a great deal to offer.
I miss Liang, naturally, and Paul. Their photographs are on my desk and every day I fondle Liang’s brooch. Do I miss China? Perhaps I shall one day. At present the bitter memories are still too vivid. I have started to write a book about it but don’t know whether it will ever be finished.
From New York May sends me good news. She is happy about Liang’s achievements, likes her work and has made friends. I miss her very much, the pleasant excursions and dinner-parties, her humour, our absorbing debates. She has a very special charisma. Liang has inherited some of it and it’s more noticeable now that he’s got over his apathy and has a purpose in life again. He is making enormous progress in his medical studies.
I’m also very proud of our son Wuling; he too gets excellent marks. Both of them, like all the young people in China, have to make up considerable arrears since schools and universities have been closed for ten years and many teachers have been banned to concentration camps or killed.
I’ve always admired May’s resoluteness. What a girl! To go off to the United States all on her own! I fervently hope that in America, that totally different world, she will re-discover herself. She was thoroughly disillusioned when she saw all her aspirations and beliefs crumble down; and worse, when she grasped the grim fact that she had cherished the wrong ideals.
I still see her before me, that last time, a grey wintry day, when we went for a long walk and she poured out her heart. In a quiet spot in Beihai park we stood looking out over the lake, when all of a sudden she flared up:
“You’ve no idea how terribly ashamed I feel. Why did I have to misbehave so disgracefully? Persecuting innocent people, sowing hatred? Why did we destroy everything and everyone? Our personal conscience was brushed aside. In our arrogance we were convinced that we represented the Party’s conscience and that the Party was infallible. But our personal human dignity, isn’t that our highest asset? I lost it. We only live once and can never do it over again. It’s too late, there’s no hope left.”
She burst into tears and in a voice choking with grief and anger:
“What had our people done to deserve these dreadful disasters?”
I had never seen May like this and tried to comfort her:
“It was not your fault, not our fault.”
“No? Whose was it then?”
“There’s no doubt about that in my mind,” I answered, and pointed in the direction of the leadership compound Zhongnanhai.
“All of us, of course, bear some part of the collective responsibility — I don’t deny that — but that one over there, Mao Zedong, he worked our destruction.”
“You mustn’t say such things. I cannot believe it.”
“You don’t really think, do you, that Jiang Qing and her henchmen — that Gang of Four — could turn the whole of China upside down without Mao’s explicit approval?”
She did not answer. Silently we walked on, our heads bent.
“Perhaps you’re right,” she then said in a hushed voice.
“But if I have to believe that, my last illusion is gone. Then everything without exception has been lies and deceit. And with what results? While other countries were making great progress, including the ones where Chinese live, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, here in our country time was standing still, we were even going backwards. When I think of those countless youngsters for whom a great future was waiting, like your son and my Liang, it hurts terribly to see their youth lost and their chances gone.”
“Yes, it’s heart-breaking. But don’t despair, May. Luckily, some at least are doing well in spite of the lost years. We are a resilient race.”
“We certainly are,” May agreed. “But how was it possible that for more than ten years we have all believed the slogans and blindly followed the leaders? How could it happen that one half of our people tormented, humiliated, tortured and killed the other half?”
“It’s a question I’ve been puzzling over for a long time,” I answered. “It’s a weird matter, and I have no explanation. In other countries also, as we have seen, the masses can be whipped up into a frenzy. But what happened here, went very, very far. That blind obedience can perhaps be partially explained by our collective mentality and the need for conformity which is already instilled into us as toddlers.”
“And so we conformed and became monsters!”
“Well yes, but it’s not as simple as that. There were, of course, other factors as well. When Mao came to power, the general desire to make our country independent again and economically healthy, was so strong that the masses wanted to believe the slogans and followed the leaders wholeheartedly. Chairman Mao was trusted unconditionally. We did after all reach a certain measure of prosperity during the first years, and he was generally credited with this success.”
“Yes, we wanted to believe, and so we did. I had absolute faith in him and in the Party’s leadership.”
“Later, when he was clearly on the wrong track, people went on admiring him. The catastrophe of the Great Leap was not imputed to him, but to mistakes committed by the Party bureaucracy. And yet, May, all these explanations do not satisfy me. How could the Cultural Revolution happen? There’s more, there must be more to it. Perhaps we shall in the end find out through self-examination.”
“It seems a hopeless task to me,” May said, heaving a sigh. “Everything you said is probably true, but I still feel so shocked and confused that I’m unable to make a clear analysis.”
* * * *
Despite the cancer which is destroying his body and the countless operations he has undergone, Prime Minister Zhou Enlai has never ceased developing a boundless activity. Together with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger he had made President Nixon’s visit a success, which signalled a near-total reversal of our foreign policy.
Nonetheless Jiang Qing and her radical group continue to wage one malicious campaign against Zhou after another. Their persistent obstruction and mud-slinging have not prevented Zhou from obtaining Mao’s agreement to rehabilitate Deng Xiaoping and some important economic planners such as Chen Yun. Together with them the premier has drawn up plans for the ‘four modernisations’ of China, which will be the foundations on which Deng can build.
In between the many drastic operations he had to undergo and notwithstanding his severe pain, Zhou continues to work, refuses to take painkillers that might dull his mind, and effaces himself altogether. It vexes me no end that his enemies can attack him with impunity and I hope that he will hit back hard. But instead he continues to preach ‘unity’ while the Gang of Four never leaves him in peace.
Premier Zhou Enlai seldom gets an opportunity to see Chairman Mao who is kept practically isolated from the outside world by his stewardess and attendant Zhang Yufeng (‘Jade Phoenix’). During Zhou’s long periods of illness Mao has never visited him or sent any message, let alone a word of sympathy or appreciation. On 8 January 1976 Zhou Enlai died. Even then not a word from Mao Zedong, not even a wreath for his most loyal, closest collaborator. But the whole of China is mourning. Not only we, who have known him intimately and admired him, are profoundly shocked and grieved, everywhere in the country there is intense sorrow, as if all of us have lost a father.
I was furious when it was made known that by order of Jiang Qing no wreaths, no white flowers and no black armlets were allowed. It was disgraceful. Forty thousand mourners were permitted to walk past the bier, no more, and no one from outside Peking. But now Zhou’s body is being transported to the crematorium nearly thirty kilometres outside the city, and two million people line the route; though there had been no announcement, everyone knew.
Mao Zedong is seriously ill, partially paralysed, breathes with difficulty and can hardly speak but his mind still seems to be clear. When Jiang Qing did everything in her power to blacken Deng Xiaoping and have him dismissed with the obvious intention to have one of her henchmen, Wang Hongwen, designated as Zhou Enlai’s successor, Chairman Mao surprised everyone by appointing the colourless and harmless provincial ruler Hua Guofeng as Prime Minister.
On the eve of the Chinese ‘All Souls’ — 4 April — the citizens of Peking laid funeral wreaths for Zhou Enlai at the monument for the fallen heroes in the Square of Heavenly Peace. There were so many that a large part of the immense square was decked with wreaths. All knew that this was not only a manifestation of mourning and homage for Zhou Enlai but also an indictment of Jiang Qing and her radical gang. My colleagues and I naturally also laid a large wreath and we stood there deeply moved by this spontaneous demonstration in which hundreds of thousands participated, singing songs, reciting poems and carrying banners.
We were beside ourselves with anger and indignation when it appeared that in the night of 4 April all of the wreaths, banners and flags had been removed by the police. Those who were present in the square to commemorate Zhou were arrested as ‘counter-revolutionaries’ and taken away. That day it came to bloody clashes between a growing mass of angry demonstrators and the police who were reinforced with army units. The square was cordoned off by some 15 to 20.000 security troops. At the instigation of Jiang Qing, apparently, Mao agreed to hold Deng Xiaoping responsible for this ‘counter-revolutionary incident’, and relieved him of all his posts.
Since Zhou’s death I am working for Hua Guofeng, an amiable man but wholly ignorant of foreign affairs. I often act as liaison between him and the Wai Jiao Bu (Ministry of Foreign Affairs). Mao Zedong died on 9 September. While Zhou Enlai was loved by all and his death caused deep sorrow, hardly a tear was shed for Mao. He was and is still revered, but was never loved, and his death does not evoke profound emotions.
A struggle for power broke out immediately, but in early October Jiang Qing and her gang were arrested, to everyone’s immense relief! Only now an end seems to have come to the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution which for ten years has plunged our country into the deepest darkness and misery. There is great joy and a festive atmosphere wherever one goes.
However, what strikes me is that the adoration of Mao Zedong continues as before and is stimulated by the new premier Hua Guofeng who no doubt hopes he will enjoy some reflected glory. What we are all hoping now is that Deng Xiaoping, that pragmatic and able statesman (“I don’t care if it’s a white cat or a black cat, so long as it catches mice”), will be rehabilitated and, with Marshal Ye Jianying’s support, will usher in a new era for China.
So long as the truth about Mao Zedong is not openly acknowledged, so long as his evil spirit continues to float over China, we shall not free ourselves of our calamitous recent past and shall not be able to make a genuine new start for a better future, for freedom and democracy.
Mao was a brilliant strategist and political leader who led his revolution to victory through the most incredible hardships and set-backs. Like the Qin Emperor, he forged the whole country into unity (making millions of victims, not only among the Han Chinese, but also in regions like Tibet), thoroughly knocked the old society about and changed it. Admittedly this reform was partly necessary, especially in the countryside.
But in his megalomania he brought about unthinkable catastrophes. China is still suffering from the disasters his lunatic actions have wrought.
All normal human relations, whether family, community, colleagues or friends, were alien to him. Extremely egoistic and narcissistic, he kept his distance from all and became a suspicious and cruel tyrant.
Moreover, even the foundations of his revolution were false: how could the class-struggle, hatred and terror which were to establish the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, ever create a perfect ‘people’s democracy’? The one is in contradiction with the other.
The Qin Emperor laid the foundations of an administrative system which has lasted until modern times, but through the ages he has rightly been reviled for the outrages he committed. His follower Mao Zedong also needs to be publicly unmasked. We Chinese must put the wicked heritage of Maoist communism behind us, the tyranny, the injustice, the laogai camps, while keeping and further developing the good that was started under Mao: the industrialisation, the improvement of agriculture and the peasants’ lot, the emancipation of women and other social attainments. Without making a clean sweep of everything else we will not succeed. Without freedom and respect for the rights of the individual we will fail. In the polluted soil of communism no healthy plants will grow.
Thirteen years have passed since the death of Mao Zedong and the arrest of the Gang of Four. Tremendous changes have taken and are taking place in China, especially in the economic field but there is still no political freedom, not a grain of democracy. Mao has not been degraded and Maoism is not yet dead.
Liang became a prominent orthopaedic surgeon, and was giving lectures at the prestigious Peking Union Medical College (now called Chinese Medical University). Paul’s son Wuling was posted to a Chinese Embassy in a western country, Paul himself retired and he and Fanglin still live in the same house. May teaches Chinese in New York and is writing a book; she has remained unmarried. Larry married his steady girl-friend but later contracted an incurable disease of which he died three years ago.
When Larry knew he had not long to live, he and Paul asked me as an old friend to write their history — preferably in fictional form and with changed names — on the basis of Professor Sun’s Diary and the copious notes that they had both made during those last years of the Mao-regime.
Larry, of course, was well versed in journalistic reporting but he had always shrunk from writing this book (and had perhaps never found the time and repose for it in his busy job).
He felt ashamed of having left all of this material untouched for so long a time. In trying to persuade me he advanced the argument that we had remained in touch with one another and with Paul during most of those years, that I had been in China many times and knew their history fairly intimately.
After some hesitation I decided to comply with his request. I knew it would be no easy task and time-consuming. Then other activities held me back.
Until in June of this year, 1989, I saw the most shocking live scenes on my television screen: the bloody suppression of student demonstrations for democracy and against corruption on a square so familiar to me, the Square of Heavenly Peace. Students and citizens were killed. The wounded received first aid on the spot from doctors and nurses, the seriously injured were transported to hospitals.
Liang had, Paul informed me through a friendly foreign TV-reporter, worked hard for days on end to help the victims until soldiers of the so-called ‘People’s Liberation Army’ launched an all-out attack with tanks and artillery against the students and citizens and Liang was fatally hit. Paul had, of course, informed May immediately; she was inconsolable.
Now I knew I could not put off my task any longer; I had to write the story. The curtain of hope that rose in 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed on the Square of Heavenly Peace, has now, forty years later, fallen on this same square.
When I read the typescript of this book I was satisfied that Carl had on the whole given an authentic and moving account of what happened during the years he described — on the basis of various diaries, oral statements and personal experience. It is a mixture of fiction and reality, as the author himself states, and as far as the facts are concerned, I have nothing to add to them.
However, the book ends with the bloodbath at Tiananmen Square in June 1989 and there have been some significant political and staggering economic changes since then. History, even in China, has not stood still. So I offered to write a short additional chapter.
After the events of June 1989 the leadership showed not the slightest understanding of what the students and the many citizens who joined their protest, were aiming at. Deng Xiao-ping spoke of a ‘counterrevolutionary rebellion’ and even stated that ‘the dregs of society’ had attempted to overturn the state and society in order to establish ‘a bourgeois republic totally dependent on the West’.
Such language is not heard anymore. Time has healed many wounds and led, even among the leadership, to a more sober judgement of those momentous events.
Deng himself had already admitted that there existed a fearful amount of corruption — that was precisely one of the students’ charges — and had nostalgically referred to the simple and unadorned lifestyle of the early days of Chinese Communism. Yes, if indeed one could return to the incorruptibility of officials and soldiers which we had admired so much during the first years after Liberation, that would be wonderful! His slogan that ‘getting rich is glorious’ has, of course, set in motion a process of unprecedented economic growth.
During the past years all efforts have been focussed on making the economy grow and flourish. They have been remarkable and deserve great praise. We are rightly proud of these achievements. But the staggering corruption continues and the fight against it has not yet been successful. At this stage the country appears only to be undergoing a transition from a Communist system which was not really Communist (as idealists saw it) to a form of Capitalism with a socialist face which does not wholly deserve that name either.
It will no doubt be a long-term and extremely difficult task to establish a system of greater social justice and to fight the appallingly high rate of unemployment, corruption, nepotism and fraud.
With the example of the Soviet-Union in mind, we realise, now more than before, that our evolution toward democracy and a different economic system cannot take place overnight. Much time is needed for this. It is especially true for a great country like China which, with its huge population, is difficult to rule, even almost unmanageable from the centre.
Yet it would be stupid to deny the Chinese people the most fundamental human rights. The demand for freedom of expression and participation in the political process cannot indefinitely be ignored. A measured introduction of democracy will only strengthen the hand of those responsible rulers who honestly aim at solving China’s problems.
As a first step we should, I think, discuss more profoundly and frankly our Maoist past. Carl has quoted me as saying that “Mao Zedong needs to be publicly unmasked” and that “in the polluted soil of Communism no healthy plants will grow”. I still stand by that statement, though I realise the task will not be easy, since many — perhaps most — people nowadays are wholly concentrated on economic progress and indifferent about the political past and even present, or held back by a feeling of shame and fear of China losing face. And the Party leadership will, of course, be afraid that the denouncement of Mao would rob them of whatever legitimacy they may have.
1) In Paul’s autobiographical notes there was only this reference to Languan. I later asked him whether he had ever seen her again, but he said he hadn’t; she had vanished without leaving a trace.
2) The author apologizes for interrupting occasionally the Sun family’s story by introducing Chairman Mao himself, but he hopes this method will help to understand the events better. Admittedly, even though he has read most of what Mao has written and what he is quoted as having said, the novelist can at best only approximate the Chairman’s thoughts.
3) As described in Chapter I