Bloody Chronicles 血纪: Bloodbath in the Apple Orchard

[Chinese language text online in second half of 【禁书】《血纪》中集(42)

To judge by its latitude, Yanyuan was in the tropics. It would have been a comfortable place to live if its high elevation had not given it a long spring, autumn sandstorms and a harsh winter.

Yanyuan County, Liangshan Prefecture, Sichuan Province outlined in red.

Yanyuan County, Liangshan Prefecture, Sichuan Province outlined in red.

Most apple and pear trees planted there did well. If we just watered the seedlings, prepared the ground around them, and inter-tilled, the trees would flower and bear fruit the next year. Trees planted on the red earth hill slopes did well too.

Year after year, surviving trees moved up the mountain ravine up the hills. After several years the land around the different production brigades became orchards. The hard labor and sweat of the prison slaves transformed this desolate red clay wilderness as the orchard trees changed the red clay soil into a series of green oases.

How many prison slave bones did the the bloody Chinese Communist dictatorship bury there? The farm headquarters for the Erdaogou region, in order to supply Party and government cadres and People’s Armed Police with vegetables, forced two hundred prisoners who, although they had completed their sentences, to stay at the Yanyuan Farm to grow vegetables. What the Chinese Communists called “prisoners released after the completion of their sentences” was a special category of “citizen”.

– 381 –

Beginning in 1972, orchards were planted around the vegetable gardens. After several years, the orchard had grown to become a forest. The managers had a wall built around the vegetable garden to separate it from the orchard.

The “storehouse” that Chen Li, who had escorted us earlier, had built was in the orchard area. The fruit trees growing day by day above the top of the wall had already shaded that group of brick buildings.

An improved variety apple tree brought in from the Chinese interior. Every summer, when the tree was so heavy with apples that the large apples made the thick branches sag under their weight, many bees swarmed to the fragrant apples. In order to prevent staff as well as imprisoned exiles from stealing fruit, the authorities forbade people who had completed their sentences from setting foot in the orchard once the fruit had matured.

Sanjiaozhou, a section that came not under a particular section but which was directly subordinate to farm headquarters, was also covered with grass. This had once been the machine repair workshop and the woodworking workshop of the Third Infrastructure Brigade. The young prisoners who had been brought to the Farm under armed escort from Chengdu and Chongqing rearranged the workshops, moving most of them to the lands assigned to other brigades. The shops left behind, the repair shop and the motor vehicle repair shop, became the mainstays of machine repair work. But staff who worked there never escaped the label of “prisoners who had completed their sentences”.

A master craftsman named Guo Xian was good at repairing and driving motor vehicles. Farm headquarters assigned him several apprentices to help him and to learn his skills.

Master Guo, an introvert, didn’t like to talk. He was determined to endure the cruelties and oppression of prison life. He had a passive and relaxed attitude. He spent all time repairing vehicles and driving them. He very rarely argued with anyone.

One of the apprentices assigned to him was named Sun Mingquan. According to Guo Xian, Sun’s father had been a butcher and his mother had died when he was still young. When the Cultural Revolution began, his father was considered to be a counter-revolutionary. Their home was ransacked. Sun Mingquan, then only fifteen years old, had to live on the streets as one of the “Seven Bad Elements” comprised of landlords, rich peasants, counter-revolutionaries, bad elements, rightists, capitalists and reactionary gangs. Later, hungry, he resorted to theft. After he was caught, the correctional institution for juvenile offenders sentenced him to three years of hard labor and sent to Yanyuan. After he completed his sentence, he was sent to the machine shop to be Guo Xian’s apprentice.

Sun Mingquan was also an introvert. Bedeviled by misfortune ever since early childhood, he had in him explosive gene for resistance as well. He had had enough of forced labor on the Yanyuan Farm. He gritted his teeth and bore all sorts of unjust treatment, storing up his resentments inside, until they the day came that they ignited into a blast with terrible destructive power.

Six years at the machine shop passed by in a flash. Sun Mingquan was already a 24 year old young man.

One early evening in fall 1974, after Sun Mingquan finished lunch he went down the road towards farm headquarters towards the exercise field. A film was being shown there that evening.

It was the apple harvest season. On the left hand side of the road was the tall enclosing wall of the apple orchard from which spread fruit fragrances that assaulted passers-by.

He would ordinarily pick up a rock and throw it at one of those heavy branches. He was looking for apples that fell outside the wall. When he looked up, he saw that some apples had fallen just inside the orchard and the branch, now relieved of its burden, once again straightened out. A few yellow leaves fell on the road.

– 382 –

Just then, two small fellows came walking swiftly towards farm headquarters. When they saw Sun Mingquan standing there as if in a daze, they yelled to him, “Sun Mingquan, the movie will start soon. Why are you waiting there?” Sun Mingquan didn’t answer. He noticed that the small side gate the workers who had completed their prison terms to enter and exit the orchard was only half closed. He pushed on the gate and entered.

It was dark and still inside the apple orchard. All around the orchard, since the apples had just been picked, he could see the edges of “fallen apples” with yellow marks on them lying half in the deep grass.

He parted the grass to pick them. They were ripe apples that had rotten on one side. The rotten side of the discarded apple lay hidden in the grass. This looked like a “battlefield” that had left many apples behind in the rush.

Someone had forgotten to lock that side of the orchard in the rush. So he looked through the tall grass once again in different spots, looking and choosing some of the large, yellow apples. He was getting ready to go out the gate when behind him, from deep in the orchard came a sharp woman’s voice crying “Halt!”.

Sun Mingquan flinched and turned around. The woman was coming the yellow building towards him. He saw that it was Peng XX from the accounting department of farm headquarters. Among all the female cadres of the farm, Peng XX was always harsh towards both prisoners and former prisoners. People called her the “female tiger”.

This time she was wearing sandals as if she had just taken a bath after dinner and had come here for a walk. Sun Mingquan stopped and wondered why this woman was calling him? When she got within five meters of him, she reprimanded him saying, “Who told you to come into the orchard? Don’t you know that you are not supposed to be here?”

This rebuke disgusted Sun Mingquan. He had usually done planting and management of the the orchard by himself. What right did that woman have to say that he was not allowed to come in?

“What did you incorrigible thieves come in here to steal? Put all the apples you stole on the ground.” she ordered Sun Mingquan in a disdainful and insulting tone.

Sun Mingquan stood there stupefied. He put all the apples he had stolen on the ground. Do you know how big a fine there is for each stolen apple?” the woman continued in a rude tone.

“I didn’t steal anything. The orchard had already been picked. I came by here and took some apples that lay rotting in the grass.” Sun Mingquan in an exasperated voice felt forced to start defending himself.
– 383 –

“You picked them up? Where did you go to pick such big apples?” She pointed to an apple in her hand as she continued to berate him in a high-pitched voice. “And how did you get in? Where did you jump over the wall?”

“The back gate was open. When I came into the orchard, the apple trees had already been picked clean. So I gathered a few fallen apples.” Sun Mingquan pointed to the back gate and gave her the apples in his hand, saying, “Look, this is a rotted apple that fell off the tree.”
“How dare you talk back to me! How dare you say that those apples were not stolen! Today there are only the two of us. Now that I have caught you, do you dare lie?” She was getting violent as she got into her full bore female tiger form.

Faced with this utterly unreasonable woman, Sun Mingquan got very angry. He stood there angrily, standing perfectly still. She reached her hand out towards Sun’s clothing which was bulging with apples. Sun Mingquan, reacting quickly, stared at her hand reaching out to him. He grabbed it and pulled it off to the right in the same direction she was moving. The lady tiger kept floating forwards unaware to pounce like a “hungry dog stealing shit”.

She staggered one step forward while the sandal on the other foot could not keep up with her plump body. and fell to one side. She stood on her barefoot but she was not prepared.

When she steadied herself, feeling awkward on the grass, she started yelling in a loud voice, “Quickly stop the thief! … You dared hit a cadre!” She was very angry. Her face was red, sputtering. Her anger quickly turned into rage.

Two cadres, hearing her yell, came out of the office. The woman, seeing that reinforcements were on the way, got even more outrageous. “Catch him, catch that thief. That fellow is acting outrageously. Not only does he steal things but he also tried to murder an old lady!” She picked up her fallen grass sandal and waved it in the direction of Sun Mingquan’s head.

Sun Mingquan stood steady as a rock through all this. When that woman beat him on the face with the sandal, his nose began to bleed. The woman still hadn’t calmed down. The men who had come out from the office seized him and took him to the office.

In the middle of the night after the three hour long movie was over, Sun Mingquan’s shop master Guo Xian got a notice from farm headquarters calling him to the farm office building to “retrieve his apprentice”.

When Master Guo received Sun Mingquan, he had just been untied. He had bruises all over his body. That woman, in front of Sun Mingquan, was determined to give a lesson to Master Craftsman Guo, berating him for improper management since one of his apprentices had gone out to steal apples and hit a cadre without his knowledge.

Sun had a great deal of anger inside him because he had had to wander the streets as a child after his parents were persecuted. This fire from his youth had long been buried. He often said that a pack of tigers had come to ransack his home. He said that after he was imprisoned, inhumane treatment in prison had intensified the hatred he felt.

Moreover today he was being insulted this way by that woman over a few fallen apples. He felt it was very hard to bear. They didn’t understand the depths of his pain. However, since he was an introvert, he took bore this new pain just as he had born other pain in the past.

After Cadre Peng insulted Sun Mingquan, Sun continued working together with the master craftsman. Early every morning he drove the tractor to dam number two to make repairs there. Working there until evening, they would drive the tractor back for oiling and maintenance. Did Guo Xian realize what his apprentice was thinking? Everyone gradually forgot how Sun Mingquan had been beaten.

One day, during Sun Mingquan’s rest period, he ran to the explosives workshop where he got ten detonating caps and a sack of dynamite which he put in the cab of the tractor. Guo Xian only wrinkled his brow, wondering what Sun was up to? Was he going to set an explosive to get fish?” Sun Mingquan quickly explained, “A fellow from my hometown wants to go to the Xiaojin River to set explosives to catch fish.” Guo Xian felt suspicious but he knew his apprentice’s nature. If he questioned him further, he would just be rebuffed. He saw Sun washing the vehicle body so he decided it must be true and so didn’t ask him anything more about it.

One afternoon about two months after the “beating for stolen apples” incident, Sun Mingquan asked his master craftsman for leave, saying that he had had a stomach ache for several days, saying he wanted to go to the hospital that day to get some medicine and left his workplace.

At about 5 PM, after quitting time, the occupants of the big office building started to leave by the main gate. Sun Mingquan squatted along on the right of the main gate. When he saw people going out the gate, he got up and went towards the enclosing wall on the left side. As he walked along, staring at the people coming out from the office building, Cadre Peng came out.

Sun Mingquan waited until that woman had passed by him and then slowly turned around. He walked behind her, walked past her and turned around. He quickly got in front of her and then suddenly turned around. He said in a loud voice, “Peng, today I will settle accounts with you!”

When he finished, Sun Mingquan opened up his work clothes, revealing both his t-shirt and the ten blasting caps strapped tightly to his chest. A packet of dynamite hung from his neck. In his left hand he held the fuse and in his right hand a cigarette lighter!

The woman was startled to suddenly see the young man she had personally punished two months before. Faced with the blazing hot anger in his eyes, this woman, who always despised the workers as mere slaves, had not time to think. Before that female tiger had time to curse or to strike, she was already paralyzed with fright. Did she understand what the young man was doing? She didn’t even ask “What are you doing?”. Her face turned pale, her feet slackened and she trembled helplessly with fright.

She wanted to cry out, but she was too frightened to even voice her scream. She stared fearfully at the lighter in the young man’s hand. She knew that her life depended on a flick of the finger of that hand holding the lighter. At that moment she saw who that young person was. He was that “good for nothing” she had shat all over!

The radiating from his eyes in her direction and his hate-filled looks made not only her heart tremble but also made her deeply regretful although that regret was a mere twinge that soon passed. She even considered kneeling and asking for forgiveness but it was already too late. All her attention focused on the fuse that had already been lit and the flame burning its way along the fuse to the blasting cap.

She suddenly had the urge to run but her trembling legs couldn’t get her up. At the same time as her scream of despair there was a big explosion as a a big shock wave and ball of fire erupted, tearing Sun Mingquan’s body apart, splattering bits of his flesh and blood on the enclosing wall, the street, and even on the branches of orchard trees extending outwards from the encircling wall.

That woman, already frightened out of her mind, fell onto the ground. People walking further away were pushed several steps along their way by the shock wave! The sound of the tremendous blast covered everyone’s screams and cries.

Ten seconds later, the gunpowder slowly dispersed. There were only a pool of blood were Sun Mingquan had been standing. His chest had been completely blown away. His bloody organs were piled up on the encircling wall, handing on tree branches or scattered on the road.

There was only left that indomitable head and that bloodily pulped face and that pair of big unconquerable eye still opened wide staring straight ahead as if to see whether his adversary had been finished as he had been! And accusing, before all the eyewitnesses, that woman who had insulted him for no reason at all. Finally pouring out all the hatred that had accumulated for so long in his chest!!

– 385 –
Somebody yelled, “If a rabbit is pushed too hard, it will turn around and bite you! They oppress us too brutally.” “Too bad Sun Mingquan didn’t go to the office to do it. There he could have taken a few more lives in exchange for his own!” Some argued, “A one-for-one exchange. It was worth it. Sun Mingquan was a real man!”

The men in the crowd gave a big thumbs up to the man who had died. They praised Sun Mingquan for being a real man. Sun Mingquan, at the cost of his young life, had voiced the anger that they all felt.

The women exclaimed their admiration and sorrow at the loss of this young man who had been so quiet and unassuming. That was the first time that the thousands of workers on the Yanyuan Farm over the past decade had expressed their shared anger at the brutality they had been suffering at the hands of their jailers.

Sun Mingquan’s name will certainly be written down as a hero in the local history of the Yanyuan region. People who come later will tell the tale. Everyone, both men and women, was unanimous in their scorn for the tiger woman. In their conversations they say things like, “Heaven punished her for what she did!” and “Good is repaid with good and evil with evil. This is what happens to evil people in the end.” Everybody agreed.

Three minutes later, the farm headquarters siren sounded. Two squads of armed police soldiers came running to the “incident” site. They used clubs and bayonets to disperse the crowd that had gathered. The long notes of an ambulance, soldiers cursing, dogs barking and running footsteps all blended into one chaotic chorus.

Deng Yangguang held a bullhorn. He shouted himself hoarse yelling at the onlookers, “Everybody go back home. An immediate curfew is in effect. If you do not leave you will be arrested.” But nobody paid him any attention. His shouts were lost in the noise of the crowed. Rifle shots rang in the air.

After about ten minutes, all the roads and paths between the fields in the areas were covered by soldiers with live ammunition. In the end there was no riot but the situation did make Deng Yangguang break out in a sweat!

The next day, Master Craftsman Guo was put in solitary confinement. The astonishing news spread quickly throughout the Yanyuan Farm and then onward into the Yanyuan county seat as well.

Ever since the Lin Biao incident, there had been a period of respite from the savage “class struggle” that had been going on throughout China. For a time the soldiers refrained from beating people up whenever they liked. Lin Chegao was also transferred from the Sixth Agricultural Brigade back to farm headquarters and he lost his official title as deputy director of the revolutionary committee.

However in that tumultuous era, the fall of a Lin Biao meant his replacement with someone even more brutal — Jiang Qing who defamed the fine scholar Wang Li and Guan Feng and put together a group of lieutenants including Chi Qun and Liang Xiao. Her gang of crooks were the demons who indicated quite clearly the ongoing twists and turns of China’s despotism. The Chinese people had seen so much over the last two decades! As long as the devil Mao’s sacred position was “not overturned by catastrophe”, the chaos would continue.

– 386 –

The tyrant was about to tear off his mask and lift the butcher’s knives that would bring increased oppression and carve up society. Any people who showed the slightest resistance would be rudely uprooted and cast aside. There was one “Strike Hard” campaign after another for “thought” crimes. Thought criminals became for a time the main targets of the machinery of state.

The Sun Mingquan affair struck a sensitive nerve in the “People in Authority” faction [note: 当权派 a Cultural Revolution term used for Party and government officials accused of taking the capitalist road.] on the Yanyuan Farm. The day after the Sun Mingquan affair, the big banners and big character posters fashionable at the time calling on “All Party members and Rebel Faction 造反派  [note: supporters of Mao and the Cultural Revolution.] , to immediately take action to sharpen their vigilance, dare to personally lay down the law by taking revenge against counter-revolutionary sabotage, and to take the lead in cracking down hard at the outset against any signs of counter-revolutionary activity to overturn state power”; “Keep the class struggle foremost in mind in you work everyday, every month and every year” and “Pledge to thoroughly implement the struggle to criticize Lin Biao and Confucius”.

CR poster Pledge to thoroughly implement the campaign to criticize Lin Biao and Confucius

Cultural Revolution poster: Pledge to thoroughly implement the struggle to criticize Lin Biao and Confucius

These banners and posters spread throughout the Yanyuan Farm headquarters and its surrounding region, covering them in layer after layer of white paper. Every brigade strengthened its vigilance. Random beatings once again became commonplace.

Several days later, farm headquarters held a “big meeting for pronouncing verdicts” and Sun Mingquan was sentenced to death. Guo Xian was also severely punished for his involvement in a criminal case.  Some “speech offenders” and “jail escapee offenders” were taken to the execution ground. All brigades were told to strengthen their efforts to “find and indict the two kinds of people involved in counter-revolutionary activities to restore the old regime.”

Strange as it may seem in that era of red terror, the rumor spread from farm headquarters that after Sun Ziquan killed himself, people were hearing voices from the part of the enclosing wall marked with the blood and flesh of Sun Mingquan. Disciplinary and education personnel passing by would hear the shout, “Evil is rewarded with evil. The time may not have yet come, but when it does, it will be fully repaid” and would feel a chilly wind blowing from that direction that terrified them.

If other people sent down for reform through labor or as prisoner exiles passed by, the voice would say instead “I do not regret my death. Friends remember me and avenge me.”

This strange yet vivid rumor shook the farm.  Therefore farm headquarters cadres mobilized 90 workers from the vegetable brigade to spend an entire day cleaning every trace of blood from the enclosing wall and surrounding area. However the deepest marks seemed to be carved into the enclosing wall and the road. No matter who much they scraped it stayed red and that voice seems never to have faded away. All passersby needed were ears to hear.

Six years later, after the wrongful accusations against me were dismissed and I was just about to leave the farm, I made a special trip to that place to say farewell to that hero. I secretly resolved to remember his advice.

About 高大伟 David Cowhig

Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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