Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tilanqiao





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"Misery and Virtue"
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Here is an excerpt:







Tilanqiao


Communism is not love. Communism is a
hammer, which we use to crush the enemy.

– Chairman Zedong Mao –
Time magazine, September 13, 1963



        “Number 494! Number 495!” called Officer Zhang, standing in the middle of Xuhui District Police Station. “Pack your things! Today I permit you to see each other!” 
        Wenli Chen, Prisoner Number 495, packed his few possessions – underwear, comforter, towel, toothbrush, a pinch of soap and a white-enameled cup with a blue lip – into his barely used, 1950s canvas traveling bag. He stood inside his cell, waiting.
It was January 25, 1969.
“Go! Go! Go!” ordered Officer Zhang, after he unlocked the cell door.
Chen hurried outdoors, toward a large, olive-green Black Maria, with two doors in the back. The wagon resembled a World War II ambulance. He stepped inside and saw his best friend, Jijia “Joseph” Wu, Prisoner Number 494, who was thin, sort of short and wore eyeglasses that gave him the appearance of an owl.
Once the doors shut, the wagon sped off, with siren blaring.
“They’re coming!” yelled a boy on the road, among a group of youths who ran after the Black Maria.
At Jiao Tong University, Chen, Wu and several others were ushered into the auditorium. With their arms cuffed behind their backs, they formed a line up on the stage and faced an audience. Chen saw his tiny, gray-haired mother in the crowd.
A soldier stood behind Chen and pushed his shoulders down in a bow formation while pulling his hands up. Behind the soldier, a military representative read out the sentences in a shrill voice, with hits of staccato.
Chen heard his name called.
“Active counterrevolutionary criminal Wenli Chen, male, age 28, birthplace Zhongshan, Guangdong province, of bourgeois family background, student, unemployed, residence Number 354 Xinhua Road.”
“Active counterrevolutionary criminal Wenli Chen, from a bourgeois family, has had reactionary thinking ever since the Liberation. He has hated Socialism deep to his bones ever since the Liberation. Since 1956, he has used a radio receiver to listen to the stations of the enemies. He has scattered rumors everywhere, drumming up support and waving the flag and screaming and shouting for imperialism, revisionism and reactionaries. Since the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution he has … actively recruited counter-revolutionary members and organized a current counterrevolutionary group. Criminal Chen has attacked the Socialist system furiously, attacked Zedong Mao Thought, that of infinite brightness, attacked and slandered our Great Leader Chairman Mao and the Proletarian Headquarters headed by Chairman Mao and Vice Chairman Biao Lin, as deputy. Criminal Chen’s crimes were serious. After the case had been uncovered, Criminal Chen set up a conspiracy of silence with the other criminals, compelling them not to confess their crimes. The criminals were investigated, and their crimes were confirmed…
“According to the law, Criminal Wenli Chen is sentenced to 15 years in prison.”
Minutes later, the shrill voice paused, and the hearing concluded. No lawyers. No judge. No court.
“All prisoners will be escorted to the prison now!” the military representative announced.
A muscular, post-military Chen climbed into the back of the olive-green Black Maria police wagon and sat on the floor next to Wu, his friend accused of being a member of Chen’s “counterrevolutionary group.” For a fleeting second the two made eye contact, and then Chen glanced out the front windshield.
Comrade Wang caught him. She was the head of investigations for Xuhui District’s Hunan Road Neighborhood Association.
“This one is real bad!” Wang screamed as she pushed Chen’s head down and jerked up his hands, cuffed behind his back. She screeched, “He’s still looking outside!”
Wang’s comrade, sitting on the bench, said to Chen, “Fifteen years is very heavy. In Tilanqiao, if you are good and willing to transform, we will reduce your sentence. If you are bad, we will increase your sentence.”
After a short ride, the wagon slowed down at a guarded entrance, almost stopped and Chen stole another peek. Mounted on the side of the front gate was a white sign with black, Chinese characters for shanghai city prison, commonly known as Tilanqiao for the surrounding area where the massive institution stood, at 147 Zhangyang Road.
Slowly, the wagon drove through one gate, then another and rolled to a stop inside the prison. The doors in the back opened, and the prisoners jumped down. Escorted into the reception building, where handcuffs were removed, Chen looked at his freed hands, swollen and red. One by one, the men were fingerprinted.
Chen gazed outside and saw Comrade Wang. A faint smile tugged at his lips, while he looked at her.
“You are real bad! Our investigation is not finished yet. We will add to your sentence!” she screamed, stomping the ground.
A prison guard in the front said loudly to Comrade Wang, “There is nothing for you to do. You can go now.” To Chen, he added, “Don’t worry about them. They are crazy.”
Chen, officially Tilanqiao Prisoner Number 6641, waited in a large room with many others, including his best friend.
“We’re capsized in a shallow ditch,” Wu, with tears in his eyes, whispered to Chen.
“Everything depends on God,” Chen said.
Just then another door opened, and a guard ordered the group of men, two by two, into the prison yard, where more guards stood.
“How many years?” a guard asked each one.
“Fifteen years,” said Chen, when it was his turn.
“Go! Go! Go!” the guard directed him toward Cellblock Number 3, where he and his friend, Wu, were separated.
Escorted into the five-story block building and up the stairs to the second floor, Chen heard shouting.
“Where are you coming from?” yelled a prisoner, from somewhere inside the bowels of the cellblock.
“New sentencing!” answered another prisoner, somewhere.
“You are not allowed to yell!” yelled one of the guards.
Chen walked down a corridor, lighted by dim, overhead bulbs dotting the ceiling every 10 to 15 feet. To one side, the outer wall with windows. To the other side, a row of dark cells. Escorted to the end, finally, around 4 p.m., he found himself at Cell Number 45.
Calmly, Chen entered the tiny cell, approximately 4.5 feet by 7.5 feet, made even smaller with a raised wooden floor recessed into the cement room to permit the inward swing of the iron-bar door. He sat down between two of his three cellmates.
To his right, next to the eight iron bars, sat Zhenhua Jin. Around 30, he was a Chinese doctor of acupuncture, a type of doctor that was also a fortune teller, an astrologer of sorts. He was in Tilanqiao, because he knew Mao’s birth date and checked the fortune of the chairman. Unfortunately, someone reported him to authorities, and he was arrested and sentenced.
Across from the acupuncturist sat Zhifang Xu, snug between the grille gate and the neiwu, the neat stack of inmates’ belongings. An old man, in his late 50s or early 60s, he had complained that the rations he received from the People’s Government were not sufficient, which meant that he was not happy with the Communists, which meant that he attacked Socialism, which meant that he was a counterrevolutionary.
To Chen’s left sat Wenbin Qing, around 50, who insisted on sitting in the corner, across from the bucket used for human waste. Before the Communists seized power on October 1, 1949, he had been a top-of-the-line Grade-8 Worker for a factory, where he had joined his co-workers, underground Communists who had agitated for more money. After the takeover, Qing was falsely accused of joining a pseudo People’s Liberation Army.
Chen’s first few months in Tilanqiao were dull and routine, even the day when his entire second floor moved up to the fifth floor. Most of the time, inmates sat in study groups, the daily brainwashing sessions. But occasionally, the daily boredom was alleviated during yard time, when the men were ordered to the basketball courts, bald patches of cement with sparse wisps of weeds. Between two cellblocks, they usually walked around and around the circumference of the yard, but sometimes they watched performing teams of prisoners.
Many artists found themselves behind bars, after the Communists rounded up and arrested them during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the regime’s attempt to rid China of the Four Olds – old culture, old customs, old habits and old ideas. Those arrested included dancers from the Shanghai Ballet Institute and musicians from the Shanghai Brass Orchestra, the Shanghai Choir and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.
Because they produced nothing for the State, musicians and artists were classified as bad elements, one of the Nine Categories of Enemies: landlords, rich peasants, counterrevolutionaries, bad elements, rightists, traitors, spies, capitalist roaders and intellectuals, which was the Stinking Ninth. Not classified as criminals, the entertainers had been processed through the administrative system under the military administration, and most had been sentenced to labor-reeducation farms or factories. Only labor-transformation cases were classified as criminal and processed through the People’s courts.
Inside the prison walls of Tilanqiao, the entertainers marched and sang revolutionary songs, as they held up their “Quotations from Chairman Zedong Mao,” a pocket-sized book with a red plastic jacket slipped over plain cardboard covers.
A few times, Chen saw Haishen Lu perform. A famous singer in the Shanghai Choir, he was tall and thin and sang like an Irish tenor, with a rich tone and a vibrato that hinted of classical training. For the inmates, Lu performed the “Usuli Boat Song.” Normally, its stirring notes and lines celebrated the beauty of a simple life upon the Usuli River, but during the Cultural Revolution the lyrics had been perverted with political propaganda.
Tilanqiao inmates had their own in-house prison ballad, “Song of the Tilanqiao Prisoner,” which they would secretly sing among themselves:

One enters the prison, scared and trembling;
Two by two, in line;
Three meals, every meal is not enough;
Four seasons, without a jacket;
Five-story mansion;
Six relatives, you cannot rely upon;
Seven and a half feet is the size of the kennel;
Eight iron bars, each one strong and firm;
In the end, why am I here?
Really, I don’t know why!









A Love Story





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"Misery and Virtue"
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Here is an excerpt:









A Love Story


 



Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods drown it.

– Canticle of Canticles 8:7 –









             Joseph Ho stooped over his anesthetized patient lying on the operating table, belly up, a crimson-colored abdomen crimped open with hemostats dangling from pinched flesh.
On staff at Regional Administrative Hospital in China’s Guizhou province, Joseph, a surgeon at the age of 26, had been on call the night of July 4, 1960, when he had to perform the emergency surgery. That was to be his final night at the hospital, but he didn’t know it, yet.
Just as he located the acute intestinal obstruction in his patient and prepared to slice away the life-threatening section, Joseph heard the doors of the second-floor operating room slam open behind him.
“Stop the operation!” yelled the hospital superintendent as he entered, followed by two plainclothes officers from the Public Security Bureau.
Joseph, with scalpel in hand and a bit stunned from the sudden intrusion, looked up and stood back from his patient.
“Take off your gown, and follow these two men to the Public Security Bureau,” the hospital superintendent ordered.
Joseph had no choice. He had to surrender his patient, mid-surgery, to his first and second assistants, who scrambled to take care of the emergency and to telephone for a backup surgeon to finish the operation. He put down his surgical instruments, and, as soon as he had untied his face mask and removed his bloody gloves and gown, the two officers pulled his arms behind his back, handcuffed him and led him away.
Minutes later, after a brief ride in a military vehicle, Joseph stood before two interrogators.
“Where are we?” one of them asked.
“The Public Security Bureau,” Joseph answered.
“What do we do here?”
“Arrest people.”
“No!” one of them screamed. “We arrest counterrevolution-aries! You are a counterrevolutionary!”
Joseph was a Roman Catholic faithful to the Pope, which was a crime in Communist China, where Party members must be vowed atheists. Any Roman Catholic devoted to the Pope was considered counterrevolutionary, counter to the People’s Revolution, therefore an enemy of the People, an enemy of the Party, an enemy of Chairman Zedong Mao.
Before Joseph, they placed a detention paper.
“Sign!” they ordered, repeatedly.
Repeatedly, Joseph refused.
Unable to sway him, authorities transferred him to Province Jail Number 3, where he underwent a thorough search. Guards confiscated his eyeglasses, shoes, belt, then led him to his cell, a 9-foot-by-9-foot room, which he shared with a dozen other men.
Some were political prisoners, but others were hardened criminals, not the most trustworthy sort of men. And Joseph trusted no one, for inmates were rewarded with merits of sentence reduction for reporting to authorities the thoughts, words and deeds of others.
In the cell, there was no bed, only the cement floor. No bedding, only a single sheet to cover the entire floor, which it did not. No toilet, just a bucket for waste elimination placed in the corner, where new cellmates were forced to sleep.
No heat, just occasional drafts of air through the cracks. And because Joseph was still in his summer clothing and only had a thin blanket, he suffered from the increasingly cold temperatures as the days and weeks blew by.
Only two gourds of water per person, per day, to drink only, not to wash. And because inmates were never allowed to wash, their bodies were infested with lice.
Two meals a day of starvation rations – rotten rice covered with mold, occasionally garnished with some pickles.
That was 1960, when the masses of China were gripped tightly in the death hold of the Great Chinese Famine. No one had enough to eat except the Communist Party’s top officials, who had plenty.
Because of his empty stomach, Joseph’s thoughts dwelled on food, especially as he was ordered to sit all day every day on the cement floor and think about his Catholic “crimes” against the People’s Government. At night, he lay awake, struggling to fall asleep, fighting the hunger pangs. Unable to move, he had to remain still, crammed between the other inmates. It seemed as soon as he shut his eyes, he was wakened by the clanging of a key in the cell door.
“Number 18! Come out! Follow me!” ordered the guard.
Joseph struggled to his feet and stumbled to the interrogation room, where he was forced to stand, for hours upon hours. Behind the bright light pointed directly toward his eyes, the voice of an interrogator hidden in the shadows repeated the same questions.
During the periods of silence, the only sound was the scratching of pen on paper. A recording secretary somewhere in the darkness wrote down by hand everything that was said.
But Joseph refused to answer their questions.
Thinking a little “encouragement” might help, guards wrapped heavy chains – more than 10 pounds – around his legs. Around his wrists, they clamped French handcuffs and screwed them so tightly that he could feel the blood circulation stop to his hands. Not sufficiently satisfied, one of the sadistic guards looped a rope around the cuffs, then yanked up, pulling Joseph’s arms into the excruciating jet-plane position. Mosquitoes buzzed around, stinging him, as he was unable to move.
“We don’t give you torture,” Cadre Wu said, laughing, hitting Joseph’s face.
“Yeah. We don’t give prisoners torture,” another taunted, hitting Joseph.
For his lack of cooperation and for his “bad attitude,” Joseph was dragged to a different cell, where he remained in solitary confinement for the next eight months, enduring inhuman treatment. Because his hands remained cuffed behind his back, he was forced to eat his meals off the floor, bending forward while in a kneeling position. When he had to urinate, guards ordered a prisoner from another cell to help him. With the handcuffs so tight, blood vessels burst, causing intense pain. He feared irreparable damage and that, very probably, he would lose the use of his arms.
After three months, he noticed a rusty nail sticking out of the window frame. As a student in secondary school and in college, he had joined the gymnastics teams and had excelled at the rings and the high bar. From all his years in athletics, he was still limber enough to step through his cuffed hands, bringing them from the back to the front.
Just barely able to reach the window frame, gradually, he popped the nail out from its bed in the wood. Sitting on the floor with his back against the door, under the peephole so the guards could see only his feet, he worked diligently to pick the lock of the custom-made handcuffs forged by a blacksmith. After two days, success.
For the next five months, during the day he kept the cuffs on, loose, in case the guards looked through the peephole. But because he was in isolation, the guards never entered his cell, so during the night he removed the cuffs and hid his hands.
Finally, on June 8, 1961, the cell door opened.
“Number 18, come out!” ordered a man Joseph had never seen.
His isolation had ended, and the cuffs were removed.
“Follow him,” ordered the man.
“Stand over there,” said a second stranger, opening a briefcase and pulling out a paper.
“I announce,” the stranger read aloud, “the punishment for Joseph Ho, Cantonese, hospital doctor, age 26. You are an active counterrevolutionary, but you have no activity, so according to the Reeducation-Through-Labor Department, we punish you with three years reeducation through labor. If you want to appeal, you have three days.”
“Give me that paper. What evidence do you have against me?” Joseph said.
With that, the man stuffed the document back in the briefcase and left the room.
Joseph had only three days to file an appeal, but he had no pencil, no paper. He had had no trial, no judge, no jury, no lawyer. His particular “crime” was a civil matter, which – unlike a criminal matter – wasn’t required to go to court. Instead, his case and punishment had been discussed and decided upon by the Communist Party members in the Regional Administrative Hospital, the Public Security Bureau and the Reeducation-Through-Labor Department.
Two days later, on June 10, 1961, Joseph was transferred out of Province Jail Number 3.


        Under an armed escort of two soldiers hired by the Public Security Bureau, Joseph and two other prisoners were ordered onto a public transportation bus, alongside regular commuters.
Upon reaching their destination in Anshun District’s Puding County, the three prisoners were pushed out of the bus and forced to walk many, many miles, without any rest. The entire way, the armed soldiers screamed and threatened to use their rifles to shoot the unshaven, dirt-encrusted, half-starved, half-naked men, who could barely walk. Every step of the way, Joseph felt that he would never make it to the end, to Tai Ping, Peace Plantation, a prison slave-labor farm, hidden in the bleak countryside.
But he did make it, and once there he was immediately forced to work alongside other prisoners in a labor team.
Luckily for him, he arrived in the summer, the best time to labor in the fields during the famine, because he was able to steal enough to survive while harvesting corn, wheat, soybeans and peanuts. Unbearably hungry, while pulling peanuts out of the earth, he stuffed handfuls into his mouth without rinsing off the soil, which had been fertilized with human waste.
Because of the unsanitary conditions, Joseph and the other men suffered from roundworms, which laid eggs internally, which were passed through their bowels, which were eliminated in defecation, which was used for fertilizer, which contained parasite eggs, which contaminated the food, which was eaten by the inmates, which began the cycle all over again.
Doctors often used santonin to treat the men suffering from roundworms, but the vermifuge caused the dying worms to twist together, frequently causing intestinal blockage.
The most dangerous time for the laborers to work was in the rainy season, in the autumn, when mushrooms popped up in the fields. Because the men were starving, some ate anything they could get their hands on, including the many poisonous mushrooms.
But to be on the labor farm in the winter was the absolute worst. The arrival of cold weather brought more deaths. Every day, several prisoners died, mostly from infectious diseases that invaded their bodies because of the starvation. The emaciated corpses were dumped in mass graves, with soil loosely thrown on top. At night, the wolves would disinter the bodies, devouring flesh and bones.
And then there was the brainwashing.
Every night except Saturday, for two hours or longer depending on the supervising ideology cadre, there were small-group study sessions, for the purposes of brainwashing. However, during the winter months, with nothing in the fields there was not much outside work, so the prisoners were forced to endure more hours of daily “reeducation.”
During the sessions, with units of 20 to 30 prisoners, each man took his turn criticizing, reporting on what the others had said or done during the day while working.
Did each man work diligently? How was the attitude of each? Did anyone malign the Communists?
One of the prisoners acted as recording secretary and took notes, which were given to a cadre and filed away. Each year, each man would receive a yearly evaluation for attitude.
Some nights, usually once a week, a cadre would announce that there would be a struggle meeting. The entire brigade of prisoners, consisting of 300 to 400 men, would meet in the big hall and sit on the ground, as one of the prisoners was isolated on the stage in front.
The political ideology cadre, who was in charge of thought control, spoke first about the prisoner, explaining how the prisoner was against the Communists, against the People’s Government. Then the prisoners sitting on the ground would be forced to accuse, to criticize, to say something against the targeted victim, who was usually handcuffed, tied and tortured.
The next day, the prisoner would be forced to work in handcuffs and chains. Or he would be isolated in a cement casket, in which there was very little room to move and where everything had to be done, including relieving one’s bladder and bowels.
Because Joseph’s hands were still numb and he was very nearsighted without his eyeglasses, he had to be extremely careful not to break any of the plants while laboring in the fields. Otherwise, he would have been accused of intentionally damaging the crop, for which he would have been targeted and attacked during a struggle meeting.
After several months of fieldwork, Joseph was transferred and assigned to a 100-man team that cut down trees in the Dayong forest.
To fell trees and cut off the branches, prisoners used primitive tools, either a single-man or two-man saw. Then the limbless trunks had to be carried away, nearly 10 miles through the forest to the mines in Big Coal Mountain. There, the trees were used as supports in the underground mine tunnels.
If a tree was not too heavy, a few men would hoist it upon their shoulders and carry it away. If a tree was extremely heavy, then at least 10 men, in two columns, would work together to move it. Two-by-two, the men paired up and shared shoulder poles between them, to which the tree was tied and from which it was hung. Dry trees were not so bad, but when wet, the work was horrible.
And Joseph was still barefoot.
Everything he did, he did barefoot – in the heat, in the rain, in the snow. His shoes had been confiscated the night of his arrest, and he hadn’t worn any since.
Though heavy work, logging was better than working in the fields. One reason was that there was only one cadre per team, and in the less-strict environment Joseph was able to interact with local peasants. Although they were extremely poor, at times he was able to exchange some little thing – perhaps, a piece of cloth – for food.
After logging in the forest, he was assigned to work in one of the coal mines in Big Coal Mountain. On his first day, with only minutes before he was to enter the tunnel, a sudden subterranean explosion shot a plume of dirt and smoke out the entrance.
A light bulb, dangling from a wire, had hit the ground and shattered, igniting a gas explosion.
More than 40 prisoners burned to death inside the mine. Those who survived suffered from severe burns, incredibly painful wounds for which there was no morphine. From the dormitories, the survivors could be heard screaming from the pain.
“Don’t shout! Don’t scream!” ordered a cadre. “Learn from the Russian hero Pavel Korchagin! Don’t complain of the pain!”
The cadre referred to the idealized selfless hero in Nikolai Ostrovsky’s 1930s Socialist realist novel, “How the Steel Was Tempered,” considered a must-read in the literary canon of Communist propaganda.
In the mines, absolutely no safety precautions were taken for the prisoners; after all, they were only prisoners. Not even a gas monitor. To burn off methane gas fumes, one of the prisoners would be completely wrapped in heavy clothing and rags, which enclosed his body, head and face. Then the clothing would be soaked with water right before he would be pushed into the tunnel with a torch to burn off the fumes.
Even though working in the mines was dangerous, the men preferred to work underground, because they received more rations.
Fieldworkers were allotted only 26.5 pounds a month of grain, such as corn, rice, wheat. Those working in the coal mines, depending on the type of work, could receive up to 39.5 pounds a month.
When labor-camp officials learned that Joseph was a medical doctor, he was ordered to work in the small clinic attached to the mine. And, finally, he obtained permission to receive from his family a pair of shoes, simple sneakers made of rubber and canvas.
While working in the clinic, Joseph overheard whispered conversations about parents exchanging their very own children for the children of neighboring villagers. Some children were dead. Others were near death. As the “goods” in the exchange, the remains of the children were eaten by those suffering from extreme starvation during Mao’s famine. Because of the malnutrition, there was no flesh, no muscle on the bodies of the children, betrayed by their protectors. Only the hearts and the livers were removed from the victims and eaten.
Saddened by what he heard, Joseph was not shocked, for he knew about China’s history of cannibalism.
At the clinic, Joseph had one colleague, a “barefoot doctor,” who knew nothing about medicine. He had gained his position by ingratiating himself and currying favor with the cadres, who expected and received from the barefoot doctor everything free from the clinic, including medicine, for themselves and their family members.
Joseph, on the other hand, sent all bills to the accounting office, which charged the cadres. Unhappy to pay for services and medicine, the cadres sent Joseph back, after about six months, to Tai Ping, Peace Plantation.

The Handmaid




Winner of Los Angeles Press Club Award, 2014

Judge’s comment: Theresa Marie Moreau’s compelling story of Catherine Wang, who endured many hardships for clinging to her religion under 1950’s Communist China, is a sobering reminder of the intolerance of authoritarian regimes.












To read the whole story, purchase
"Misery and Virtue"
Click LULU.COM    






Here is an excerpt:







The Handmaid




Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word.

– Saint Luke 1:38 –



          

Inside a darkened cattle car, Catherine and Juliana Wang clung to each other, as they looked for a spot to sit on the manure- and urine-stained floorboards. In the elbow-to-elbow crowd of women prisoners,
the sisters sat and leaned back against a wall of rough-hewn planks.
 Eventually, the locomotive’s engine roared. Metal clanged upon metal, as the couplers between rail cars tightened. Then the train, filled with convicts, sluggishly rolled out of the Shanghai West Railway Station.
It was October 1958, a dangerous time to be faithful Roman Catholics in the revolutionary, Communist-controlled People’s Republic of China.
Prisoners of conscience, the Wang sisters – declared enemies of the State for their unwavering Catholicism – were being transported, like beasts, from Shanghai to a prison in Chinghai province, the province of prisoners, the province of banishment, the province of unconquered vast open spaces to be conquered with the bare hands and bent backs of men and women on the wrong side of the Revolution.
Only 13 years earlier, on August 15, 1945, when Emperor Hirohito announced the unconditional surrender of Japan, signaling the end of World War II, life in the Republic of China had looked promising, especially in Shanghai, the highly cultured, international port city, praised as the “Paris of the Orient.” On that day of true liberation, planes flew over the city dropping leaflets, the war is over! People ran into the streets, with their arms raised, hollering with joy. Celebratory firecrackers exploded, with bits of singed red paper flying everywhere.
It was the end of the Japanese occupation. No more air raid sirens. No more Imperial Japanese Army soldiers. No more identification checkpoints. No more shakedowns. No more on-the-spot strip searches. No more prisoner-of-war internment camps.
And the Wangs shared in that optimism, even though the family had to squeeze into a humble, third-story, walk-up apartment on Boulevard de Montigny (former name of Xizang Road South). It was wonderful to live in the city’s French Concession, a district known for streets shaded by London plane trees with decorative marbled bark, pseudo-maple leaves and dangling seed balls.
With the future looking hopeful, the Wang family embraced life, even its daily struggles.
During the Plum Rain Season, when abundant rainfall coaxed the beauty of the pink plum blossoms along the Yangtze River, rivulets of rain poured through the holes in the apartment ceiling. Ten-year-old Catherine, warm and dry under a pile of quilts, watched with contentment as her mother, affectionately called Mm-Ma, rushed about, mopping the floor, happily emptying the overflowing wood tub, sauce pot, wash bowl and even the drinking mug.
At times, moments of enchantment filled the evenings.
When Catherine’s father, her Ah-Bà, returned home from his job as secretary in a Belgian-owned real estate company, sometimes the musical instruments hanging on the wall were retrieved from their places of honor. Ah-Bà sat, and upon his thigh he placed an erhu, a two-stringed Chinese violin held in one hand and bowed with the other. Mm-Ma wrapped her arms around a yueqin, balanced on her lap, as her fingers plucked the traditional Chinese four-stringed lute called the moon guitar for its hollow body shaped like a full moon.
In the dim light, Catherine listened, and a peace and calm fell upon her, as the tones of the erhu married the tones of the yueqin.
Once in a great while, Ah-Bà and Mm-Ma splurged and treated their two eldest children, John and Catherine, to a traditional Chinese opera. In the evening after dinner, the family walked a few short blocks north, up the wide and busy Boulevard de Montigny, dodging pedestrians in Chinese gowns, limbless beggars, noodle vendors and barefoot rickshaw runners. At the corner of Rue du Consulat (former name of Jinling Road East) stood the very famous Gold Theater.
Catherine’s favorite opera “Suo Lin Nang” (“The Jewelry Bag”) hinged on the chance meeting of two brides, one wealthy, the other poor. The plot unfolded, revealing universal themes of generosity, gratitude and reversal of fortune, while embracing the Confucian philosophical ideal of reciprocity.
From the back row, the least expensive seats, she watched as Yan-Chiu Cheng (old form of Yanqiu Zheng) played Hsiang-Ling Hsueh (old form of Xiangling Xue), the bride from a very wealthy family. Catherine sat transfixed as Cheng, dressed in a brightly colored bridal costume and exaggerated makeup, traveled in a luxurious sedan across the stage, followed by a long procession of servants playing horns and gongs, carrying the bride’s trousseau. With his tones of sorrow, Cheng’s singing stabbed at Catherine’s heart and wrenched emotions from her, forever leaving deep impressions. He was one of the “famous four” actors for a reason.
On the mundane side of day-to-day life, Catherine began her education at a local municipal primary school. Even though lacking knowledge of the very basics – because the war had made education a difficult pursuit – she quickly caught up.
Then in 1947, at the age of 12, she transferred to Aurora University’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Catholic university’s auxiliary all-girl preparatory secondary school.
Catherine’s Ah-Bà, as a child, had attended École Franco-Chinoise, the French-Chinese School, renowned for its French-language program, at 179 Boulevard de Montigny in the French Concession. Always a brilliant student, year after year he received the Number 1 test score, for which he was always rewarded with the Number 1 seat in the classroom. And because of his academic excellence, the school also granted to him free tuition, which allowed him to continue his education, all the way to university.
Ah-Bà, who was orphaned at a young age, and Mm-Ma had both been raised as pagans. In traditional Chinese style, they followed Buddhism, especially on Lunar New Year’s Eve, when custom mandated that children kowtow three times before an image of Buddha.
One day, I will adore a real God, thought Catherine’s father as a boy, when forced to kneel down and touch his forehead to the ground thrice in front of a stone-cold, pot-bellied statue.
Over the years, as Ah-Bà continued his education in Catholic schools, he began to feel drawn to the Church. After his marriage and the birth, in 1929, of their first child, a son, all three were baptized at the same time, in 1932, with holy water cupped from the marble font in Saint Peter’s Catholic Church, on Avenue Dubail (former name of Chongqing Road South), the collegiate church of Aurora.
Ah-Bà was baptized Louis, after Saint Louis the King. Mm-Ma received the baptismal name Mary. Their son was baptized John, after Saint John the Apostle. And when their first daughter was born, in 1935, she was readily baptized Catherine, after Saint Catherine of Alexandria (282-305), the brilliant and beautiful Virgin Martyr who was scourged, imprisoned, then finally beheaded. Then Juliana arrived, and, eventually, the youngest, Cecilia.
Despite a religious home and an education in a prestigious Catholic school, Catherine, unlike Ah-Bà, didn’t particularly feel an attraction to the sacred life. She was the type of girl who liked fun and laughter. Rather than spend time reading passages from the Bible, she preferred to spread before her the pages of Shen-Pao, a Shanghai local daily newspaper, to look at the pictures and to read the short serialized stories, even though her educated father hinted that she should seek deeper understanding in life.
“One should also read editorials,” he counseled.
Editorials weren’t fun. And neither were the after-school weekly catechism classes on the fundamentals of the faith, taught by any one of the many Jesuit priests affiliated with the Aurora campus. But there was no escape, because as she and the other girls walked down the stairs to leave school for the day, the nuns, the Mesdames of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, were always waiting at the bottom step, to direct them, with a glance of an eye and a point of a finger, straight to the lecture hall.
Until one day, when Catherine, a girl as clever as she was pretty, figured out a way to escape the dreaded catechism class. Instead of going down the stairs, she walked up the stairs, to the roof, through the roof terrace, down the stairs of the convent next to the school, through a large garden tended by the sisters, and skipped straight out the back gate, smiling to herself all the way to the street, where she was free!
But such a carefree life for Catherine, and others, didn’t last.
The 20th century had brought many changes to China.
The death of Empress Dowager Tzu-Hsi, in November 1908, had opened the door for change. After the Republican Revolution of 1911 finally ousted the traditional rulers, ending the centuries-long dynastic rule of Imperial China, the Chinese Nationalist Party quickly rose to power and became the official government of the new Republic of China.
After the Communist Party opened its first Chinese chapter in Shanghai, in 1921, members secretly infiltrated the Nationalist Party, but were purged from the ranks, in 1927, sparking the Chinese Civil War between the two factions, which lasted, off and on, for decades. In 1937, the fighting temporarily ceased when the Communists coerced the Nationalists into a temporary truce to join forces in the Second United Front to fight the invaders from the Empire of the Sun in the Second Chinese-Japanese War (1937-45). But the Reds had plotted to use the lull as a ruse to gain more control and power, which they did.
With the end of the war between the Allied Forces and the Axis Powers, on August 15, 1945, the civil war picked up in the countryside where it had left off. The Nationalists – headed by Generalissimo Kai-Shek Chiang – and the Communists – headed by Tse-Tung Mao – fought hard, and as the fighting destroyed the nation, the Communists continued to gain more ground and more control in the rural areas.
Then the Communists aimed for the cities.
On February 3, 1949, victorious Red troops paraded into the city of Peking (old form of Beijing), the North Capital. Then on April 23, they marched triumphantly into Nanching (old form of Nanjing), the South Capital, in Chiangsu (old form of Jiangsu) province.
Nanching was only 187 miles from Shanghai, also in Chiangsu.
It would be just a matter of time. And it didn’t take long. The following month, on May 27, 1949, the Communists “liberated” Shanghai, the city in the East built by the West.
Although the nearby countryside had been scarred by military battles, the city proper escaped fairly unscathed. Catherine never heard a single gunshot, perhaps because she lived in the center of Shanghai, a city sprawling over an area of more than 2,000 square miles. The only sign of “liberation” that she noticed was the following day, when she saw People’s Liberation Army soldiers lying around, reclining on the pavement in the streets, relaxing in their glorious victory.
Not much changed, at first.
Communism has been described as having three stages. The first phase of Communism is the kowtow (polite). The second phase is the yaotow (forbid). The third phase is the satow (kill).
In Shanghai, the Communists had just launched the first phase: the very polite kowtow.
When the school year began, the People’s Liberation Army Cultural Troupe entered the school campus freely every day after classes. Being a teenager looking for excitement and diversion, Catherine readily joined the music group. She enjoyed being with the Communists. They were fun.
The old songbooks filled with the beautiful lyrics of the ancient poets formerly sung in school were tossed away by the Communists. Instead, the army troupe performers, decked out in impressive and enviable gray uniforms, taught the students how to sing revolutionary songs, which mostly consisted of shouting slogans.
“Where the Party points, there we go!” Catherine and the others chanted in unison. “Tse-Tung Mao Thought is the beacon, lighting our advance!”
To go along with the slogans, students were also taught how to play the yaogu, a canister shaped, doubled-ended drum tied at the waist and beaten with sticks.
The students were ready to march by the time Chairman Mao stood atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Peking’s Tiananmen Square, on October 1, 1949, and announced, “The Central People’s Government Council of the People’s Republic of China took office today in this capital.”
To celebrate the glory of the Communist Party on that very first National Day, the army troupe organized the students to form a primitive parade. They shouted slogans and pounded their waist drums, as they walked along the crowded city streets, which would soon be renamed because of the city’s “liberation” from the despised reactionary and counterrevolutionary factions. Those streets with Western, bourgeois names would be replaced with names that honored the Revolution.
An exuberant Catherine shouted with the others, “Heaven and earth are great, but greater is the kindness of the Party! Father is dear, Mother is dear, but not as dear as Chairman Mao!”
Into the late-night hours, Catherine paraded around, aimlessly following the others along the streets of Shanghai. Exhausted, she wanted to go home but had no idea where she was, until she realized that she was along the Whangpoo River. Just around the corner was Saint Joseph Catholic Church, located at 36 Sichuan Road South (formerly Rue Montauban), where she and her family attended Sunday Mass. So she sneaked away and hurried home. By the time she quietly opened the door to the apartment on Boulevard de Montigny and tiptoed to her bed trying not to wake anyone, it was almost midnight.
“If you bring that drum home next time, I’ll throw it out!” her brother, John, threatened.
Apparently not everyone had been asleep.
Back at school, Catherine continued with the troupe. But then, some of the students held a meeting to start up a branch of the Communist Youth League. They invited Catherine, and she happily attended. Held in a small classroom, only a handful of students showed up. Quickly, she noticed that the meeting, in its tone, was completely different from the music group. Fun-loving Catherine listened carefully to what was said, and what she heard in the hate-filled ideology, she didn’t like.
The leader, who addressed the group of students, mocked religion and slandered the priests and nuns.
Didn’t the Communists promise freedom of religion? Why are their actions not keeping with their promise? Catherine wondered.
After that meeting, Catherine refused to take part in any of their activities.
Instead, sometime in the spring of 1950, when classmate Ma-Li “Mary” Gu asked Catherine to join the Legion of Mary, a religious organization, she readily accepted the invitation. Since she had dropped out of the Communist-led groups, and the government began banning all forms of entertainment, except that which pushed the revolutionary propaganda, she had not much else to do.
With its name taken from the Litany of Our Lady, Catherine’s Legion branch was Mother Most Chaste. Meetings were held in the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Convent, where Catherine sometimes saw a priest with a kind face, Father William Aedan McGrath. The Irishman had spearheaded the work to set up the Legion in China, at the urging of Archbishop Antonio Riberi, apostolic nuncio, the liaison between the Vatican in Rome and the dioceses and religious institutions in China.
For Legionary work, in adherence to the virtuous corporal works of mercy, Catherine and her fellow Legionaries went in pairs to visit the sick children in Guang Ci Hospital, which was a large Catholic hospital, originally named L’Hôpital Sainte-Marie. The little patients were very young, very thin and very frail, as a result of their illnesses, but when they saw the Legionaries, they immediately filled with joy.
The Legion brought a new beginning, a new meaning to Catherine’s life. The seed of spirituality that had been planted in her heart began to sprout. It seemed as if she had finally begun to heed her father’s advice of seeking a deeper understanding in the world, not only of the natural, but also of the supernatural.
Around the same time, the Wang family moved to Sainte Anne Apartments, at the corner of Jinling Road East and Yongan Road (formerly Rue Laguerre). After the move, the entire family began to regularly attend the daily 6 a.m. Mass at nearby Saint Joseph Catholic Church, headed by Jesuit missionaries from France.
Perhaps the family was inspired by the cross gleaming atop the middle tower, which they could see from their apartment balcony, just one parallel block over. Or perhaps it was the tolling of the bell three times a day, at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m., signaling the faithful to pray the Angelus. Or perhaps it was a simple need for something spiritual in a world becoming all too materialistic under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, led by the totalitarian Communist regime.
After morning Mass, Catherine rushed home, ate a quick bowl of breakfast congee, a rice porridge, and grabbed her school books. She then rushed down the street, where she jumped on the electric streetcar that ran along Jinling Road East and turned onto the very busy Huaihai Road (formerly Avenue Joffre), lined with parasol trees on both sides of the road. She rode all the way until her stop at Ruijin Road (formerly Route des Soeurs), where she hopped off and headed to school.
When the final school bell rang at 3:30 p.m., she and her classmates walked half a block and crossed the street to Christ the King Catholic Church, at 223 Changle Road (formerly Rue Bourgeat), staffed with American and Chinese Jesuits. The priests were all friendly and kept their young flock busy with plenty of religious activities. For Catherine, first there was homework, followed by choir practice until the service that began each afternoon at 5:30 p.m., which consisted of the rosary, doctrinal instruction and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Also included was a regular catechism class for the elder students. By that time, Catherine loved catechism class.