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A Letter from China
January 23, 2001

A Letter from China

Tenth in a series from Ernest Pinson

Are You Free?

by Wang Yukuo (William)

Fan Zheng Ye Mei Shi (Since We Have Nothing to Do)

This is a true story that happened during the Cultural Revolution. As a kid, I didnít understand the meaning of it, and enjoyed it as other children. Looking back, I cannot forget and forgive the crazy people involved. As Iím growing up, I have found many other things of the same kind around me, which make me think and regret. Can we avoid this/these? How? Here is the story.

"Itís your turn to present any card, come on, what are you thinking about? Young man?" Mr. Gang, the team leader asked.

"Itís snowing heavily, and there has not been any performance for a few months, either acrobatic display or monkey show. What a life! You only know playing cards, whatís fun about playing cards day after day? Have you ever thought of a new entertainment?" Mr. Jiang, the member of the working team, has just come back from Beijing. As a soldier in the mighty PLA (Peopleís Liberation Army), he is the only person in the village who has been to Beijing, and seen the great world.

"Any new idea for playing? Tell us, tell us. If itís appealing and not expensive, we will do it. O. K.?" Mr. Gang is a little bit afraid of this young and strong man.

"Well, there is something very cheap, I should say it costs nothing to make everybody happy. Have you read the Peopleís/Everybodyís Daily? No, have you listened to the radio? The class struggle should move ahead, all the people in China should be informed and re-educated in the Cultural Revolution, and there is a good example for this campaign."

"Who is he? You can only find the poor people in our village, have you found anybody in new clothes or wearing any new shoes? You know that, how can we find any class enemy here?" Mr. Gang pretended to be angry, for he could not read and write.

"Well, no one wears new clothes now, but that doesnít mean their fathers or grandfathers did not wear new clothes, is that right? Besides, some of their fathers occupied many fields and employed many hands for help. Canít we say they are landlords? If so, their sons and daughters are also landlords, right?"

"Damn it, donít bush around, tell us who is this person? We were not born yesterday; if there is any class enemy among us, why we canít find him?" Mr. Huang, the accountant in the village could not put up with Mr. Jiangís arrogant air, and also wanted to save Mr. Gangís face, so he shouted at him.

"If you didn't gaze at your young, beautiful sisters-in-law all day long, you would be sure to find him. Oh, don't use your hands, a gentleman is rather than does, understand?" Mr. Jiang was moving sideways to avoid Mr. Huangís fists.

"O.K. donít be silly. Tell us, you fool." Mr. Gang realized that he must control this nasty thing, otherwise they will move to the topic of his intimacy with Mrs. Wu, the widow. If Mr. Gang was serious, they did not dare play tricks again, for he would curse and swear mightily, and even the most shrewish women could not be his counterpart. Thatís one of the reasons why he was chosen as the head of the village, who dares to oppose him?

"Landlord Chen. When we plough in the field, he is fooling around selling his peanuts; when we sweat in harvesting, he is selling his sunflower seeds; when we are thin and dark, he is fat and pale. Look at his hands, they are as smooth as a womanís, you can not find any cocoon in his hands. Is it fair? Tell me, tell me."

"But he has not any land; even if he wants to work as we do, he canít," Mr. Huang said, partly for the truth, partly for opposing him intentionally.

"But his father was a landlord, the son must pay for his fatherís sin," Mr. Jiang retorted.

"However, we donít know exactly how much land his father occupied; besides, his father is dead." Mr. Huang could not give up easily,

"The death of his father can not change his sonís life; if his father is a landlord, so is his son. Don't argue with me, thatís our policy, no one dares to disobey it. Iím a party member, donít I know the policy?"

"Hell, donít argue anymore. Why should you be so unfriendly about an enemy? Is it worthwhile? Come on, we can decide now, on the Eve of the Spring Festival, there will be a meeting condemning and criticizing Landlord Chen. Tell Xiao Hu to inform everybody of this in case somebody goes to bed too early."

A leader is a leader, so it is settled that the head of each family should say a few words to criticize Landlord Chen----who is landless now. If any one refuses to condemn him, he must be on the side of Chen, and is ready to challenge the working class people, and is doomed to fail.

About thirty years ago, there was no TV or radio in my hometown, there were only loudspeakers fixed in some tall trees or in the meeting room so that ordinary people might know the latest information, especially the latest policy from the supreme government in Beijing. Young people in the village enjoyed themselves by playing cards or Majiang (Chinese Dominos); the children and the elderly people usually went to bed quite early to save some lamp oil. When Xiao Hu announced that all the villagers would gather in the meeting room having something for nothing, and there would be an enjoyable meeting held by the Mr. Gang and Mr. Jiang on the Eve of the Spring Festival, people were attracted there.

That evening, there were all kinds of noises: chatting, joking, spitting, or giggling. Women were busy knitting some cloth soles, while children wanted to play hide and seek, and men were smoking their pipes and guessing what was going on this evening. It was useless to predict, for Mr. Gang, the head of our village, was not present. When they finally arrived, people were a little bit surprised to see they had bound the so-called Landlord Chen, who was ordered to kneel down. When he refused to do so, Mr. Jiang kicked him down, shouting "down with the Landlord Chen!"

The children were excited, I was one of them, for they could also kick him with their small feet, or pull his clothes in order to drag him down. Why did children hate him so much? There were two reasons. First, if he was called the Landlord Chen, he must be an enemy. It seemed their right to be cruel to the enemy, for they had been taught that it was cruel to the working class people if they did not show their hatred to the class enemy. Second, they could not get more peanuts from him. I was not sure why I was so "reasonable" to join them torturing the old landless "landlord", but I could not forget the kneeling old man frustrated and depressed in front of so many people, including the children. That was a great shame and insult in China; only the naughty child would be punished to kneel somewhere for a few minutes or a few hours.

I cannot remember clearly what other people did that evening; however, I can not forget that most people there were quite excited. They shouted some slogans and showed their anger and contempt of a helpless man. If they did not do so, they might be considered a candidate of the class enemy; at least a potential enemy or sympathizer, which might be shameful to their children.

Landlord Chen left our village soon and he did not come back. No one seemed to care about him, for that was only a game to some people. Thirty years passed. I could not forget the chaotic scene that night. He might not remember me; however, I could not forgive myself for my ignorant harshness; I want to have his forgiveness, not only for me, but also for those adults who should have known what was happening.


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