A heavy and cruel hand has been laid upon us. As a people, we feel ourselves to be not only deeply injured, but grossly misunderstood. Our white countrymen do not know us. They are strangers to our character, ignorant of our capacity, oblivious to our history and progress, and are misinformed as to the principles and ideas that control and guide us, as a people. The great mass of American citizens estimates us as being a characterless and purposeless people; and hence we hold up our heads, if at all, against the withering influence of a nation’s scorn and contempt.
-Fredrick Douglass, in a statement on behalf of delegates to the National Colored Convention held in Rochester, New York, in July 1853
With Deyi hefting and shouldering other people’s luggage, Ayuan and I helped Mocun carry his small number of bags and squeezed into line to get on to the platform and from there onto the train. We found a compartment to settle him in and then the three of us got off to watch quietly until the train moved off.
I remember once seeing travellers departing for an international voyage, they were boarding a small paddle steamer that was to ferry them out to a much larger vessel. Those seeing them off were casting multicoloured streamers over the small ship. As it moved away from the dock and towards it’s larger counterpart, the colourful streamers snapped one after another as the people on the bank waved and cheered. Some of the well-wishers shed tears as they waved, and it seemed as if the snap snap snap of the streamers rang out in sympathy with the pain and sorrow of those left behind. If you could see the parting sorrow of the advance party on the train and their relatives waiting below, it most certainly would not be colourful, and it would not snap so readily.¹
Mocun came to the carriage door and bid us return, no need to wait. We locked gazes from afar, but there was nothing we could say to each other now. I thought to myself, we three should return and rest easy, if only to avoid the possibility that when the train finally pulled away he would see the worry in our eyes as we watched him departing alone. We respected his wishes and did not wait for the train to go, we left early. I looked back many times, the train hadn’t moved and the platform was still packed to bursting point. We returned home in silence; Ayuan and Deyi followed and then went back to their respective factories. Like working in the same school but in different departments, they laboured at separate factories.²
¹This paragraph is quite descriptive and emotive, I purposely moved further away from a direct translation so as to better capture it’s emotional impact.
²This seems to be a metaphorical allusion to the similarities between the children and their parents. Their working in separate factories is being compared to the parents working in the same institution but in different areas.
To experience suffering, is to temper oneself: apart from preparing for this ordeal, is there anything else one can do? If the clothes you prepare are too old they may wear out, but if they are too tough they may be difficult to clean. I hadn’t sewn in many years, but on a whim I used my sewing machine to fashion a felt covering from some dirt resistant materials- it would last a long time before needing to be washed. I used it to patch a pair of trousers, the seat ended up like a globe, with lines of latitude and longitude going this way and that, it was thick as a turtle shell to boot. Mocun really liked it! He said it was brilliant, better than carrying a seat around with him and he could sit down wherever he pleased. He told me not to work so hard on my preparations, I could wait till I had followed him down to look after him properly. As far as reuniting our family, we would have to wait some time for Ayuan and Deyi to settle in the country and look after us in our retirement, as is customary.
In the blink of an eye it was the 11th, the day the advance party would be setting out. Myself, Ayuan, and Deyi went along to see him off. Mocun didn’t have much luggage, and found a little corner to rest in while he waited to board the train. In the waiting room there was a great hustle and bustle, people were coming and going this way and that. The leader of the advance party was so busy he was being run off his feet, not to mention the fact that he had too much luggage and was regretting being born with too few pairs of hands. Deyi put down his load and hastened to assist those who were overburdened. Seeing him ardently exerting himself on behalf of others, Mocun and I could not help but praise the customs of the new society, and we simultaneously comforted each other, saying: “Deyi is gentle and honest, as long as Ayuan has him by her side, we can rest easy.”
We arrived at the small food shop we had agreed upon and ordered the speediest dish of clay pot chicken chunks – it was all bones. I ladled some clear broth onto the half eaten bowl of chicken but I still couldn’t get it down.
There was just one week to purchase supplies but Mocun was only given leave for the last two days. In the end I had to cut class for a few days so I could stay home and pack his things. This leave taking was being called, “everything but the kitchen sink”——it was uprooting the entire home to be sent down, like receiving orders to go and never return. Things we didn’t use, clothes we never wore, precious books and notes; all of them had to be taken, the luggage was piled up into a great heap. At the time, our daughter, Ayuan, and our son-in-law, Deyi, were working in factories, so we couldn’t call them to help out. On their day off they came to assist with the luggage, and they even copied what others were doing and used thick ropes to tie it up ever so tight, in case it should fall and break or be crushed on the road. Unfortunately the protection those thick ropes afforded stopped at the bulky iron and wooden trunks; in terms of torment, those metal and wooden trunks simply could not match the resilience of human flesh.
Every day the two us would queue up to get food at our respective work units’canteens. In total the queuing wasted half an hour; going back home to cook was also a waste of time and we’d be late back to work besides. Later, the Worker’s Army Propaganda Brigade loosened their hold on us and we would often meet at a cafe at midday. The food was substandard and the service was slow, but a couple waiting together could have a good chat. On 3rd November that year I was waiting at the bus stop just outside the school’s main gate. I saw Mocun slip out from the milling crowd. He walked over to me and stood by my side, he said to me in hushed tones,“I have big news to tell you, in a moment.” I looked at his face but I couldn’t guess what his big news was.
The Chinese Academy of Social Science used to be the Chinese Academy of Science, Philosophy of Social Science Department. We simply called it “the Department.” My husband and I were both members of the Department. Mocun was in the Literature Division, I was in the Foreign Languages Division.
In 1969, the intellectuals of the department were receiving “re-education” by the “Workers and Liberation Army propaganda team.”
Firstly, all the staff were “concentrated” (by being made) to live in the offices, six, seven to 9 or ten per room. Early each morning we would exercise, and then all three units would separate into classes for study before and after lunch, as well as after dinner.
After some time, the old and infirm were allowed to return home, and study time gradually decreased to just two units, in the morning and afternoon.
The two of us moved back home, but it seemed that our days living together were numbered. Soon we would be sent down to the cadre school. The location of the cadre school was gradually becoming clearer through the gossip around us, the length of our stay, however, could only be guessed. All we could do was wait.