From Kong Lingping’s rightist memoir of his twenty-two years in Chinese prison camps and subsequent political rehabilitation. In this chapter, prisoners circulate a handwritten samzidat publication within the camp, the camp authorities, aided by several informers investigate. A ringleader is executed.
Other passages from Kong Lingping’s memoir excerpted here are to be found at https://gaodawei.wordpress.com/?s=kong+lingping
Chapter 9 The Torch in Hell
In 1974, when Lin Chegao had just returned to the Sixth Agricultural Brigade with the official rank of “officer in charge”, he said to He Qingyun that the most important political prisoners in the Sixth Brigade should be “strictly managed”.
He focused attention on “thought criminals”. He thought he could accumulate political capital this way and make a comeback. He got very gloomy after his return to the Sixth Agricultural Brigade. He was not longer the man who would scream at the slightest provocation and jump into free-for-alls.
His latest “interest” was to pay for tidbits about the faults of the convicts. People like Liu Ziyuan, Wang Shichun, and Chen Xianshi who wanted to get ahead by informing on the other prisoners became part of his network. He would seek them out and make a pretense of being concerned about their future. He would tell them if they were to render some meritorious service he would immediately draft documents asking that their service be considering in winning them a “reduction of sentence”. If they would only actively take the part in the governance of the farm, their reward would be greater than well-known “running dogs” like Ma Wenhua and Zhou Xueqing.
Section One Attacking Li Fendian and the Three Meetings
After the Lin Biao incident, the Rebel Movement in the Red Guards completed its mission to “overthrow the capitalist roaders led by Liu Shaoqi” and left the stage of history. The “revolutionary committees” had already taken over management of local affairs from the former local governments. The “revolutionary committees” themselves were composed of two mutually opposing rebel factions.
In the Xichang region a mass organization named “Down with Li Jiangquan Xichang Contact Group” had murdered its way to prominence during the Cultural Revolution. The faction got its name from overthrowing the Southwest China kingpin Li Jiangquan. Another organization, “The Three Meetings“, formed from an alliance of representative of workers, peasants, and soldiers. Both groups said that they had “sworn to defend Mao Zedong to the death” and claimed to obey unswervingly the orders of the Cultural Revolution leading group of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.
No matter how they advertised themselves to outsiders, what both groups cared about was the struggle for “power”. They fought fierce battles over personnel arrangements, resource allocation, governance, and adjustments of institutional arrangements.
(1) The struggle
Mao Zedong managed the tense opposition between the two groups behind the scenes. Deluded people killed each other in endless “class struggles”. These struggles left the people of the entire nation hungry and in rags.
In that time of peace, people did not till the soil or make things in factories but instead were poisoned and stirred up to a raging fury by differences in “points of view” and “political lines”. They fought one another in innumerable life-and-death struggles. Some even died “martyr’s deaths”. Anyone could be a target. Husbands opposed wives, fathers opposed sons, and elder and younger brothers fought one another.
The “Down with the Li Jiangquan Xichang Contact Group” and the “Three Meetings” [Note: The three were Workers, Peasants and Red Guards] continued to expand both
their areas of operations and their battles with one another. Well-armed “Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Trucks” appeared on the streets of Yanyuan. The propaganda truck was armored with steel plates so that the opposing faction could not destroy it. The propaganda trucks were equipped not just with loudspeakers and megaphones but with printing presses as well. They printed and distributed many kinds leaflets as they drove along the streets.
The leaflets, in addition to “the latest, highest level directives” were mostly aimed at attacking and insulting the opposing faction or exposing the selfishness of the leaders of the opposing faction.
– 388 –
Publications such as “Battlefield Interview“, “Red Determination” and “People’s Militiawoman” were not only vulgar and poorly written, they usually featured someone’s selfishness in order to seize the attention of the people.
When a certain head of state gave Mao a basket of mangos the story was spread throughout the entire country. Everywhere these mangos were made out to be “sacred objects” and so Mao Zedong Thought propaganda trucks throughout the country carried a basket of mangoes brightly decorated in red, accompanied with the beating of drums, in big parades. Every locality sent special cars to solemn receptions to create one of the most revolting scenes in Chinese history.
This propaganda, unlike official newspapers, did not have to pass through layer upon layer of censorship so almost nothing in them was true. However the accounts of events occurring throughout the country did provide us with glimpses of the “Cultural Revolution bloodbaths” that were going on all over China. This was particularly useful to the political prisoners in the Sixth Agricultural Brigade.
From these accounts we could analyze the chaos in the aftermath of China’s great famine along with with crises that it had brewed within Chinese society. It helped us try to judge the answer to the question “how long can this go on?”
I remember the description in one propaganda leaflet of a battle in the Fanjiaping district of Chongqing. The article described the battle, the faction taking part in the fight, their schools, the numbers of students, the kinds of weapons they used and the number of dead on each side.
Another leaflet described a fierce battle in Ya’an. I saw genuine “battlefield” photographs which enable many people to experience the tragic scenes of the bodies of ignorant young people lying in the streets.
One leaflet had a special report on how a certain rebel faction red guard group had, in a people’s market, seized the “King of Sichuan” Li Jiangquan and with the secondary target Sichuan province governor Li Dazhang. Their struggle meeting was arranged by red guards from the institutions of higher learning in the Chengdu area. Some elderly peasants sat at the front of the struggle meeting.
– 389 –
When the criticism meeting began and the red guards had just put a tall hat on Li Jingquan’s head and were about to kick and beat on him so that he would have a “proper attitude”, this upset the “peasant uncles” sitting in the front row. They began shouting “let’s fight with words, not with weapons.”
The two Li’s had run Chengdu for many years. The “elderly peasants” sitting in the front row were actually “running dogs” of the two Li’s. They warned “Don’t think that Li Jingquan has fallen into a hopeless situation these past few days. There will come a day when the “King of the Southwest” will get his old job back. When that day arrives, people who struggled him today will get your own bitter fruit to eat.”
Those words had their effect. Those “elderly peasants” taking the dignified manner of feudal family heads, admonished those leaping and kicking children up on the speaker’s platform. Many Sichuan people tend to speak in an overly dramatic manner and insults and humiliations flew in the air along with spit. Those young full of themselves red guards couldn’t bear the insults of those “royalists” and so ordered that they be seized and taken out of the meeting hall. That soon escalated to kicking and punching.
Those old man were prepared. With a whistle several hundred men surrounding the meeting place charged in. The two sides got into a big chaotic battle both on and below the speaker’s platform.
All that made Li Dazhang, who had been standing on a bench, very anxious. He kept calling “Don’t fight!”. Not realizing that the situation was not yet under control, some people who had “flown” from the Central Committee Cultural Revolution Leading Group in Beijing hurried to where the commotion was underway.
In the chaos, the two Lis had been kicked and punched many times. Their faces had
turned pale. Worried, they listened respectfully to Beijing’s arbitration. The ringleader in the chaos was naturally Li Jingquan. Serious enough for that arrogant and domineering “king of the southwest” Li Jingquan would be the crime of provoking fighting among the people. Clearly the “peasant uncles” “had behind the scenes supporters”. Now what else would Li Jingquan do in addition to obediently writing out his confession?
He pretended to righteousness while deploying all the tricks and deceptions of a lifetime. These were the power struggle tactics the Chinese Communists were good at and had deployed for a long time in Mainland China. How could they not make a mess out of ruling a country this way?
When we had finished reading this report full of mockery and derision, Zhang Xikun and I looked at each other and laughed. The ‘people in authority faction’ who routinely acted so tyrannically towards everyone were no more than this!
(2) Zhang Xikun
Zhang Xikun had been a student in the Peking University Chemistry Department. His background and his misfortunes had been different from mine. He was a sophomore at Peking University when the “campaign for the free airing of views” began. He spoke about the talk that Tan Tianrong had give at the Peking University Student Forum and about how he had admired Tan’s courage and insights. But he had also felt disgusted when, at the end of his talk, Tan had yelled the slogan “Long live the Communist Party!”
In 1957 the label ‘rightist’ didn’t yet exist. The ‘rightists’ were victims designated by Mao for no particular reason other than to achieve his own tyrannical goals. He used the accusation of a “plot” against him to respond to criticisms of what he was scheming to do openly. That he could do that to naive ignorant students who were harmed showed that he had achieved his goal of creating a dictatorship and of his willingness to do anything and harm any innocent to achieve his goals. Later, the wishful thinking embodied in the Great Leap Forward that he initiated showed that he was incapable of running a country. After severely harming national construction, Mao insisted on using tricks learned from Stalin to purge the Communist Party. All this, along with the launching of the “Cultural Revolution” showed the crisis and chaos of his personal rule had fallen into.
After the Chinese Communist Party won power, the harsh policies that had resulted from the manipulations of Stalin harmed ordinary Chinese people. From the repeated abuses of Mao Zedong, we two had arrived at the same understanding about the disasters and calamities that the China Mainland had suffered. That common understanding made us close friends.
– 390 –
Both of us during our student years became victims of Mao Zedong’s “open plot” and were soon imprisoned. Zhang Xikun was sent to the Sixth Agricultural Brigade and put in a closely supervised group. He became one of the key “counter-revolutionaries” whom the authorities watched closely. We had never had the chance for deep discussions because we we lived and worked separately and because there were many informers all around us.
This lasted until April 1967 when at an “additional sentencing” meeting called at the Sixth Agricultural Brigade I declared openly that “I was determined not to change my political path”. Zhang Xikun when he heard about the details about Chen Li and myself in the small prison he decided that he wanted to get to know me.
During a series of ferocious political strugggle meetings where people were beaten up, Zhang Xikun himself got targeted for political struggle. However, introverted as he was, he would not say anything and so since he did not make any great show in public, he never attracted much “attention” from the authorities.
We ran into one another alone by chance one day in the toilets after Chen Li was killed. He took the initiative in speaking to me with words from the heart.
He said, “I have know for a long time what you and Chen Li did. I very much admire your foresight, courage and insight. Mainland China needs you very badly. I want to be your loyal friend in the struggles we have with the prison authorities and I hope that you will be mine as well. “
He continued, “I want to ask you, if in all the conversations you and Chen Li had over the years, if he left between with your any things or any personal testament? I believe, that if any of us get out of here alive, that we have the responsibility to seek out the families of those who died, to tell them how the martyr died for his country and to give them in his personal testament.”
I felt very moved by his words. Finally, after losing Chen Li to martyrdom, I had finally found a true friend with a common goal. That gave me a lot of encouragement. However I had to answer him regretfully that when Chen Li had been sent to the Yanyuan Detention Center, he had left behind only a draft essay “Criticizing Today’s Version of the Founding Emperor of the Qin Dynasty“. After several jail cell inspections, the essay had been found. Now I had not one page or even one character left of what Chen Li had written.
At every inspection our jailers wanted to confiscate every word that we had written. Therefore, living as we did in that kind of environment, we could only preserve our words and deeds in our memories. After that heart-to-heart talk, he suggested several times that we form a secret organization in the prison. However, I believed that the Chinese Communists through their system of strict thought control strangled all opposition thinking. The Chinese Communists had a very robust network of informers that penetrated everywhere. This made it difficult for any groups or people who supported democratic reforms to exist.
The Yanyuan prison held six thousand criminals in custody and three thousand released prisoners who had finished their sentences. Like other prisons throughout China, by time the Cultural Revolution began, there not many left of the “historical counter-revolutionaries” who had once belonged to the Nationalist Party military or had worked for the Nationalist government.
Most of the “counter-revolutionaries” had been forced into opposition by starvation. All they basically knew was what Chinese Communist propaganda had poured into them. They had little idea of liberty, democratic governance, and the protection of human rights. If someone were to talk with them about freedom and democracy, human rights, and the separation of powers in a tripartite government system, they would be dumbfounded and wouldn’t know what to say.
If we had ignored the tightly organized Chinese Communist regime, not appreciated what decades of brainwashing had done, and paid no attention to the difference in the level of knowledge between ourselves and the ordinary people, we certainly would have been attacked.
Mao Zedong had set down five social categories [Notes: Five Red Categories:
Poor and lower-middle peasants (Chinese: 贫下中农)
Workers (Chinese: 工人)
Revolutionary soldiers (Chinese: 革命军人) within the People’s Liberation Army
Revolutionary cadres (Chinese: 革命干部)[clarification needed]
Revolutionary martyrs (Chinese: 革命烈士), meaning immediate family members, children, grandchildren (if any) and relatives of deceased CPC members and PLA service personnel killed in action
and Five Black (Bad) categories:
Landlords (地主; dìzhǔ)
Rich farmers (peasants) (富农; 富農; fùnóng)
Counter-revolutionaries (反革命; fǎngèmíng)
Bad-influencers [“bad elements”] (坏分子; 壞份子; huàifènzǐ)
Rightists (右派; yòupài)
They were all arbitrary man-made categories. The “five categories” were in practice just as if the Chinese Communists had caught a bunch of rats, all with different goals. At present they were incapable of uniting for form an opposition. Therefore the time was not yet right for creating an organization!
In those days when we did not have an appealing political platform with which to attract support, did not have any achievable political goals, it was very hard to achieve a meeting of the minds and create an organization. If we did not do it right, not only would we fail to achieve our goals, but it would result in needless sacrifices.
The catalyst for a democratic revolution was that the people could not earn their livelihoods. The nonsensical policies and actions of the Chinese Communist had creating the conditions in which a democracy movement was possible. Back then, we had to be concentrate on spreading democratic ideas, exposing the reactionary nature of the tyrannical government. We would have to be very cautious about creating any kind of organization. For now, we wanted to bring together people of vision, and carry out an active program of enlightenment to create the conditions for a Chinese revolution.
– 391 –
The Lin Biao Incident had been a great shock that sounded a funeral bell for the dissolving totalitarian power of that bandit Mao Zedong. What came after it, the sound of the explosion of Sun Mingquan’s revenge, had helped bring the political prisoners together politically. Under those conditions, a program for fighting for democracy emerged.
When I think back to course that our resistance has taken, I see that it was a pathway of gradual enlightenment. In 1962, when a group of us from all corners of Sichuan Province were exiled to the border region as slave laborers, the sparks of our opposition were already there in our common opposition to hunger, oppression and slave labor.
The March 15 Sanyuangong Steamed Bun Theft Incident, we found that even by saying “I’m hungry” we would become the objects of political struggle. Faced with bayonets, we yelled “You can’t confiscate our prison rations”. Although this opposition was spontaneous, it was nonetheless a group opposition to the prison regime and a challenge to tyrannical government and its guns.
When the evil winds of the Cultural Revolution began to blow, we were in dire straits. On a May night we in the Sixth Agricultural Brigade openly called for the overthrow of Mao Zedong and yelled the slogan “The dawn will soon come”. While people everywhere were muzzled by a heavy oppression, we decided to fight a hopeless battle like eggs smashing themselves against a rock to express our contempt for the dictatorship.
That May night, we openly exposed and criticized the despotic rule of Mao Zedong’s tyranny. This made our jailers very fearful. Later, the Sixth Agricultural Brigade had a violent struggle meeting in which defenseless prison slaves were beaten up. That and the terror of literary inquisition temporarily held in check our anger at fury a starvation and forced labor but made even clearer to us the brutal nature of Chinese communism.
The torch of resistance had already been lit. We continued battling the authorities through collective refusals to work, prison escapes, hunger strikes and in other ways. This brought about a change in the attitudes of people who still had illusions or had been hesitant. They gradually changed their views. Some determined fighters against prison abuses rose up among them.
Section Two Raising the Torch of Resistance
After Chen Li was martyred, the prison slaves of the Sixth Brigade refused to be terrorized by the bloody deeds of the butchers. They consoled exiles who had been beaten. The exiles came together. Every handshake, every bottle of medicine, every wound salved, every greeting expressed the warm feelings of the group. Their resistance to Mao Zedong’s tyranny brought them ever more closely together. When the earthquake hit, all the prison slaves of the Sixth Brigade gathered in the same earthquake shelter.
This made it easier for them to talk to one another. The collective political study sessions organized by the discipline and inspection personnel became a place for Zhang Xikun and others to bring us together to fight successful battles. In these battlegrounds we not only talked about historical events to illuminate the present and made use of the past to disparage the present, we also discuss how to organize group escapes.
We had come to feel that we couldn’t let things go on as they had, each of us fighting alone against our jailers. Some of the most determined among us hatched strategies on how we could organize ourselves to resist those who were using violence against us. In order to get more people to take part in the struggle against the violent abuses committed against us, we asked our hard core people to take a wise and brave approach so that they would exert greater moral influence.
The first article in “The Torch” was “A Report to All the Exiles in the Sixth Brigade“. In the form of a memoir, it recounted the most violent incidents and murders that had taken place in the Sixth Brigade during the ten years of the Cultural Revolution.
It gave the facts about the authorities’ brutal torture of exiles so that everyone would have a clear understanding of their miserable predicament. This aimed to wake up and bring together those who had become numb, silenced and inured to adversity and inspire them to actively resist!
“The Torch” relied on personal experiences with hunger and cold to expose the terrible hardships to the people of the Chinese mainland that were a direct result of Mao Zedong’s tyrannical rule.
“The Torch” used examples of jailer cruelty to expose the hypocrisy of what the regime calls “revolutionary humanitarianism”. This served as a warning to everyone not to be tricked by the enticing words of people like Deng Yangguang and fall for things that will bring only pain to themselves and others.
“The Torch” used the Lin Biao Incident as an example showed how the fighting in the top level of the Chinese Communist Party will lead to its inevitable destruction. The dawn is coming!
– 392 –
“The Torch” is the shout of the upright men of the Sixth Brigade confined behind high prison walls. It is the indictment written in blood and tears of the oppressed slaves telling what has lain buried in their hearts.
In conclusion to “The Torch” we reminded one another that “Democracy must defeat dictatorship and the future is bright”. We who held that torch high knew that the most likely result of our protests would be our destruction like eggs hitting a rock. They had the spirit of people who “We aren’t afraid of going up in flames for we are going to shine our rays of light no matter what may happen”. They would rather die standing than live kneeling.
That small enlightenment periodical lit the flame of resistance. This was defiance at the risk of our lives to the gun barrels. It was the call for an assault at the risk of our lives to overthrow despotism and rescue the people.
With the birth of “The Torch” a battle began in the Sixth Brigade between righteousness and evil, between good and evil, and between humanity and cruelty.
Just as portrayed in the movie “The Sand Pebbles” revolutionary currents divide people into three categories. The first kind of person sees a brilliant future amidst the chaos and stand firm as a pillar of social progress. The second kind have idea of where they want to go and just go with the flow. The third kind surrender to evil forces and finally become traitors.
The traitors mentioned here are not the people who are openly “red convicts”. Those people like Ma Wenhua, Zhou Xuezhu and Dai Chao can for now simply be called “confused”.
Just because they are open about their position, they still retain some degree of sincerity and so they are easy to deal with. The ones who are the problem — the kind of people who once devoured by the tiger spur the tiger on to gobble up new victims — are those who normally furiously curse the tyrants, taking a strong stand against Mao Zedong’s tyranny, and yield to no one in their complaints about the miserable situation of the exiles and in their attacks on political tyranny only to sell out the others behind their backs.
Zhang Xikun underestimated the shamelessness of these traitors. Among the first readers of this newborn publication was just one of those ghosts who encourage tigers to find new victims.
Section Three The Prison Gate
When some brave patriotic people had just published “The Torch” in prison, a filthy plot to sell them out quietly began. Before I recount this tragedy, let me first introduce the four traitors who sold their souls: Chen Xianshi, Liu Ziyuan, Wang Shichun, and Huang Xuequan.
Chen Xianshi was 26 years old. I am not clear where he came from or his family background. I only know that he had been transferred from other brigades to the Sixth Brigade because he had often escaped from prison. He was put into the “strictly supervised group” together with Zhang Xikun.
The first few days after his arrival in the Sixth Brigade, he showed in his words and manner how angry he was at the authorities. All the prisoners transferred to the Sixth Brigade had to be prepared for a stiff sentence. The jailers made no allowances for ignorant small fry like Chen Xianshi. He screamed and cursed when humiliated several times by the jailers shortly after his arrival at the Sixth Brigade. He looked like the very model of someone resisting their “personal remolding”.
He introduced himself to others in small group sessions this way: I worked in a Chongqing factory before my arrest. My family belongs to the “Five Red Categories”. After the Cultural Revolution began, I became a leader of the Red Guard Rebel Faction. In 1971 while in a fight with the Red Army Faction I incurred a “blood debt” so in a muddleheaded judgment I was sentenced to prison.
– 393 –
To use Chen Xianshi’s own words: “Although I have only a primary school education, I have always been loyal to Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line. During my Rebel days, I killed several capitalist roaders in order to serve the needs of the revolution. My sentencing certainly reflects the incorrect line on the part of the court.” Chen Xianshi’s own frivolousness and obsessions showed that the evil Mao cult had penetrated to the very marrow of his bones. How can a person like that ever calmly endure the purgatory they enter when they are sent to jail?
After Lin Chegao said his file, he put him into the informer group.
When after that, he got into trouble with the guards several times, Lin Chegao would rescue him. That gave him the official title of group leaders in the strict supervision group.
One evening, Lin Chegao asked Chen Xianshi to come to the office alone. After a simple interrogation, he switched to the main subject. “Your background is different from most of the other prisoners. I know that you are loyal to Chairman Mao, made some mistakes and was sent to jail, and that you still can’t accept that. Have you thought that opposing the government in a reform through labor brigade will only tighten the noose around your neck. If you want to get out of here fast, then you should find ways of rendering service to the Party.”
Lin Chegao watched Chen Xianshi’s expression as he talked with him. He saw that Chen Xianshi did not understand his meaning. He continued, speaking more openly, saying “The men of the Sixth Brigade are all extreme counter-revolutionaries who hate the Communist Party. Every day they do counter-revolutionary acts. Today the Party is testing you. Do you stand together with the counter-revolutionaries? Or are you decisive and draw a firm distinction between them and yourself to render service to the Party?”
Chen Xianshi raised his head as if he had understood. Lin Chegao raised his voice and continued pointing out to Chen Xianshi how he could get on the right path. “According to what I understand, Zhang Xikun and other people in your group are very active. If you can get evidence of their counter-revolutionary activities, and report them right away, I guarantee, that not only will you get credit for having rendered meritorious service, I will also prepare documents that will record your service and propose reducing your sentence. That could get you early release.”
When he heard that, Chen Xianshi’s eyes lit up. He was now fighting in the same foxhole as Lin Chegao up on the plateau. Although Chen had been jailed for murder, now the two men were on the same side.
Lin Chegao took out a bottle of white wine. The two men drank together. Lin Chegao, feeling the effects of the win, started boiling over with the anger he felt inside. “I am very annoyed at all the nonsense from the Old Conservatives. What is He Qingyun doing? There are so many verbal attacks on Chairman Mao in the Sixth Brigade but he ignores them all and still wants to tell me all his gossip. He doesn’t know how to handle the prisoners and he wants to manage me. I want to get a name for myself by arresting some determined counter-revolutionaries. Everyone will see who is up to the job, me or He Qingyun.”
“Let’s drink a toast. Make a good record of every problem that you find so that it will provide a good basis for interrogations later. We’ll make sure that the Sixth Brigade arrest cases are well prepared. People will know who is the tough one, me or He Qingyun.” Lin Chegao raised his glass high and clinked it together with Chen Xianshi’s and drank it bottoms-up. Chen Xianshi bowed and raised his glass and drank it all down.
From the evening that conspiracy was hatched, the two colluded, one openly and the other secretly, one on the inside and the other on the outside spinning all around a big evil “web”. From then onwards, Chen Xianshi watched and listened carefully to the two hundred prisoners of the Sixth Brigade. Chen Xianshi however never did find a trace of “The Torch“.
Xia Guangran, reading and writing as he lay in a corner of the wall, had already, very discerningly, noticed several times the very crafty eyes of Chen Xianshi. He told Zhang Xikun and so Chen Xianshi very soon was no longer considered a potential member of their group.
– 394 –
When Chen Xianshi on the pretext of lying sick in his bed, secretly examined Zhang Xikun’s waste paper, all he found was some Tang and Song dynasty poems, some copied calligraphy and some “Down with the Li Jiangquan Xichang Contact Group” propaganda leaflets. No matter how closely Chen Xianshi watched or how hard he listened, he got nothing other than complaints about how hard the corn was or how salty the vegetables were.
Liu Shunsen held a criticism meeting in the earthquake shelter. He gave a vivid talk to the assembled exiles about how the Shanghai secret society leader Du Yuesheng and Fan Shaozeng had become close friends.
Chen Xianshi had heard of Du Yuesheng. But who was Fang Shaozeng? Chen Xianshi made a secret report to Lin Chegao of what he had heard. The two semi-literates thought about it for a long time what could Li Shunsen have been talking about in some secret code?
Those two arrogant, conceited people were very ignorant. Later Chen Xianshi kept listening intently to Liu Shunsen, seeing him as the gateway to some great success. The Shanghai waterfront, the Shanghai waterfront! Liu Shunsen was telling the story of the kidnapping of Huang Jinrong, Du Yuesheng’s alliance with the KMT intelligence chief Dai Li. He had never heard those stories before. They must have made him despair of his own ignorance.
Nonetheless, he stuck out his long nose and and sniffed all around under people’s beds. He only found things like small sacks of rice. Chen Xianshi kept at it like that for two weeks but didn’t come up with anything.
When Li Chegao called one of their irregular meetings, Chen Xianshi, who hadn’t found anything, came with his head held low. This time Lin Chegao looked very angry at him and a bit tense. Lin Chegao thought it strange that there were two people he didn’t know in the room.
One of them was Liu Ziyuan. Liu Ziyyuan, 40 years old, spoke very little but was obviously shrewd. Liu Ziyuan had planned several prison escapes when the Sixth Agricultural Brigade was established. When his plans were exposed, the authorities put him into the strict supervision group for the most serious political prisoners. He was the “senior statesman” of the strict supervision group since he had been in it from the start.
After the end of the Cultural Revolution, Liu Ziyuan was still a determined rebel. The jailers found proof that he had several times stirred up “prison disturbances” so the prison authorities had always designated him as “one of the people to watch most closely”.
At the start of the Cultural Revolution, Liu Ziyuan was forced up on the speaker’s platform to be criticized. Naturally, Liu Ziyuan also became one of the main targets for Chen Xianshi’s secret reporting.
Liu Ziyuan normally kept silent. He spent his time on poetry and painting. Whenever he had a spare moment, he would get his paper out and copy calligraphy. Chen Xianshi often felt that something secret was hidden in his writing. Therefore, Liu Ziyuan became one of the main targets of Chen Xianshi’s searches.
Chen Xianshi had found Liu Ziyuan’s copy of the Han style calligraphy poem that Ye Ting had written before he was beheaded and had put it in a secret report to Lin Chegao. He would never have guessed that he would meet Liu Ziyuan in the office.
Another person who came to the meeting was Wang Shichun was an even bigger surprise. Ever since he had arrived in the Sixth Brigade, Chen Xianshi had known that Wang Shichun was well-known for his strenuous resistance to remolding. It was said that Chen Shichun had served in the KMT military but at the year of “liberation” 1949 Wang Shichun was only twelve years old. “After liberation” he had to wear the label of KMT military secret agent and suffer through many purges as an “historical counter-revolutionary”.
His background was more accurately described as “student”. During the years of the great famine, he had listened to the Taiwan broadcasts and tried to escape. When he was discovered, his old and new offenses were combined and he was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
– 395 –
Wang Shichun met people like Wen Tingcai and Liu Shunsen shortly after entering prison and was sent along with them from Chongqing to Ganluo. Wang Shichun often suffered torture and hardships. He had no illusions about the Communist Party. Wang Shichun was a weak and frightened character. He suffered from rickets. He was conquered by the violence of the Chinese communists.
In order to get laughs from the other exiles he would often say strange things. He was always pouring oil on the fire. He could tell which way the wind was blowing. He would often encourage other people to take risks. Once things became more serious and the authorities were investigating, he would disappear. Therefore the Sixth Brigade nicknamed Wang Shichun “the old bat”.
The most classic example was the “steam bun theft incident” at the Sanyuangong in Ya’an. Wang Shichun at the time was standing directly behind Deng Zixin, continually inciting him to do something: “I don’t see you acting with your usual enthusiasm. The steamed buns are right in front of you but you don’t dare to grab one.” How could Deng Zixin, with his tough and vehement character, now excited by hunger, resist Wang Shichun’s prodding? Deng was the first to grab a steam bun from the basket!
After taking this action that led to the riot, when the authorities were trying to find out who had made the first move, Wang Shichun didn’t say one word. As a result, several people who had taken steamed buns were given additional sentences. Deng Zixin, as the ringleader, had twelve years added to his sentence. The provocateur in the background, Wang Shichun, got away unscathed.
After the Sixth Brigade was established, Wang Shichun was involved in many escapes, prison commotions, conflicts with guards and collective work slowdowns. Yet he always escaped being implicated when these cases were investigated. He Qingyun, with his keen sense of smell, notice that Wang Shichun was often the instigator in many of these incidents. “The old bat” was the nickname that He Qingyun gave him.
One day He Qingyun finally understood Wang Shichun’s joke about the “Wang family medicated plaster” according to which the ashes of a copy of “Quotations from Chairman Mao” and wine, when drunk together, would make an unparalleled panacea that made men strong and vigorous and made women calm and prevented miscarriages.
The Wang family plaster joke got Wang pushed up onto the speaker’s platform for a 1968 struggle meeting. He was accused of the crime of “viciously insulting the great leader Chairman Mao”. He was struggled for a week. Under the blows of his persecutors, he kept confessing and begging for mercy. He even got on his knees to admit everything.
Wang Shichun, despite have been beaten black and blue all over his body, still had to go out to the fields to work. He Qingyun wouldn’t let the matter rest after the struggle session — he wrote up the case and got five years added to his sentence for a total now of 20 years. This made “the old bat” suffer not only physical pain but also wounded him in his soul.
Wang Shichun had once been a “good friend” and devoted follower of Chen Li. After Chen Li died a hero’s death, there were many murders in the Sixth Brigade compound that made Wang Shichun deathly afraid. Faced with the choice of life or death, Wang Shichun went from one extreme to the other!
At this “informers’ meeting”, Chen Xianshi saw on Lin Chegao’s office desk was a piece of paper that had been crumpled and torn into pieces and then later pieced together.
Chen Xianshi stared at the paper. On it was written the title “A report to all the compatriots of the Sixth Brigade“. It was in Zhang Xikun’s handwriting. Chen Xianshi was astonished. The thing that he had been looking for so hard had been provided by people he had been monitoring.
These three people all had different attitudes so they looked at each other coldly. With Wang Shichun and Liu Ziyuan, one was the old bat afraid of the sunlight, the other was a shrewd operator. They both knew well that this was a matter of “betraying a fellow prisoner and mistaking an enemy for a friend”. Betraying a fellow prisoner was the most hated, despicable act one can do in prison. Once discovered, such a person could no longer expect to get by peacefully in prison. The two of them had in fact debated long and hard with themselves before committing their betrayals.
Lin Chegao was thirty years old that year. He had fought for power during the twenty years since he had committed himself to the “revolution” before he achieved the envied position of deputy director of the farm revolutionary committee. An unexpected change in the wind came immediately after the Lin Biao Incident when people hauled him down from his position. Later, after lying low for a while and after several fights, he had gotten to his current position.
After having been left out in cold and suffering his own frustrations, Lin Chegao no longer had the arrogance and self-confidence that he had begun with. Faced with this reality, he decided he would make good little by little until he could get He Qingyun removed and then rise himself step by step.
– 396 –
After Lin Chegao returned to the Sixth Brigade, he still relied on his old influence at farm headquarters. His target was the number two man on the revolutionary committee He Qingyun, the very man who had kicked him downstairs. He wanted both to get his revenge and to clear away an obstacle to his rise. Lin Chegao produced an “important counter-revolutionary case” to take care of that “country hick” and make him lose his job.
Now Lin Chegao said nothing to the three men in front of him. He pointed at the paper on the desk in front of him and said, “You know better than I do what is going on in the Sixth Brigade. The evidence that I have today proves that there is a large, well organized counter-revolutionary group that calls itself “The Torch” that has been working furiously to foment counter-revolutionary activity in the Sixth Brigade.
They are aiming at Chairman Mao, the great leader loved by the entire nation, calling on the overthrown capitalist class reactionaries to arise and overthrow the people’s democratic dictatorship. They have now reached the stage of openly publishing a counter-revolutionary periodical in prison. This very rare case shows that the Sixth Brigade had in the past not taken the class struggle seriously. What has been implemented instead has been the capitalist class line thereby giving opportunities to class enemies.
After saying this, Lin Chegao got furious. This immediately got Chen Xianshi more excited while Liu Ziyuan still just sat there impassive as before, like a pool of stagnant water. Wang Shichun eyes kept moving as if he were thinking of something.
Stopping for a moment and then continuing in a loud voice, Lin Chegao said “You have already found important evidence. This is very good. Now we have already had a breakthrough in the case of this big counter-revolutionary group. This could not possibly be the work of Zhang Xikun alone. A considerable number of people in the Sixth Brigade must be involved.”
Of the three traitors, only Chen Xianshi was listening with expression. The other two listened listlessly with frozen expressions.
Liu Ziyuan and Wang Shichun both knew very well that the discarded manuscript for “The Torch” about which they had made their secret report revealed just one dark corner of the prison. If a counter-revolutionary organization did not even have a charter how could a case be brought against it?
However, after Liu Ziyuan and Wang Shichun were “summoned” to Lin Chegao’s office, the nerves Sixth Brigade, already tense, got stretched even more tightly.
Zhang Xikun and his colleagues knew that since they had lost a draft manuscript that they were being watched especially closely. Whenever they went to the toilet, there were other people accompanying them step by step. Whenever they practiced calligraphy there would be people watching them suspiciously from a distance.
I have the habit of reading and writing while lying in bed. One afternoon we didn’t go out to work because it was raining. I was as was my habit taking notes on the “Yugong” geography chapter of the “Book of Documents” that described how the ancient founding emperor Dayu had built waterworks to control flooding and provide irrigation. I didn’t have a good foundation in classical Chinese and it was hard to get reference materials so as I read the text carefully I would always be leafing through an old dictionary.
Suddenly He Qingyun charged into the cell and with a lightning move grabbed my notebook. He stood at the cell door giving it a close reading. When he saw clearly that it was all quotes from the text of the Book of Documents he unhurriedly handed me back my notebook.
That unusually quick move by He Qingyun made the authors of “The Torch” take immediate precautions. At this point, however, Zhang Xikun didn’t know about the draft manuscript that he had thrown away. Wang Shichun had already handed it over to farm headquarters.
“The Torch” was born just that way at the point of a sword. From its first issue, it was passed secretly from hand-to-hand in the prison. The loss of the discarded manuscript made Zhang Xikun more vigilant. Zhang Xikun and the others increased their lookout for Liu Ziyuan and Wang Shichun so Lin Chegao never got another trace of “The Torch” but just then another black hand was reaching out towards him
In 1973, Zhang Xikun as a result of a foolish argument with Huang Xuequan, was put into into a solitary cell in the small prison. On his second night in the small prison, Huang Xuequan broke through the roof and escaped again. This was the first time that anyone had ever escaped from the roof of the small prison and also set a new record of five escapes in just three months. When he was recaptured, he was not only beaten up badly but put in the same 15 kilogram leg iron worn by convicts sentenced to death.
The discipline and inspection department thought it would be best to take advantage of the “Double Strike Campaign” [Note: Double for “fighting opportunism” and fighting “counter-revolutionaries now at work” 打击投机倒把、打击现行反革命 ] and have him shot as a warning to the others. Lin Chegao got the recommendation to have Huang Xuequan executed. While he was examining Huang Xuequan’s file, he discovered that he came from a working class family and was a worker himself. He had been sentenced for “listening to an enemy radio station and planning to betray the country and go over to the enemy” and the charge on this interrogation record was only escaping.
Lin Chegao said that Communists, when considering executing any member of the working class, must be extremely careful. They need to take the doctrine of the class struggle into consideration. Although he knew that a life-and-death struggle was going on within the Party, it may be that he was too inexperienced and did not understand the rules of the game. Perhaps He Qingyun didn’t know how to handle him and was wanted to get rid of him as a problem.
He only had before only some documents that he could use to write a note criticizing the work of the discipline and education department. He decided to call Huang Xuequan in for an interview. He would ask him why, even as a member of the working class, he opposed the Communist Party. Even though he had committed a crime and felt badly about serving his sentence, why would he commit even more crimes by repeatedly escaping?
Huang Xuequan kept silent as if he had never thought about these issues. “What crime did you commit?” Lin Chegao asked, knowing full well the answer. “I listened to an enemy radio station and tried to betray the country and go over to the enemy side”. Huang Xuequan’s answer was wooden and forced. Although he had actually “listened to an enemy radio station” but he had never even considered “betraying the country and going over to the enemy side”. He had never understood why the court had pinned that crime on him.
These kinds of cases were very common during the Cultural Revolution. Lin Chegao had seen many of these cases and he wanted to know what these “criminals” really thought so he continued, “tell me what you think about it”.
Huang Xuequan became silent again. This was a question that would be very difficult to answer. He had always avoided it. What had he been thinking? He was a worker in an electronics factory. Semiconductors had just appeared in China and he was very interested in this technology. He followed up on this interest and to his own surprise became his factory’s top expert on semiconductors. No matter whose radio was broken, he was able to fix it.
While he was helping people fix their radios, he had to follow a procedure to calibrate the radio so they would receive the correct frequencies. He happened to tune to the frequency of a Voice of America broadcast to calibrate the radio. Just then VOA was just then broadcasting information about the actual situation in Mainland China. The broadcast naturally interested him because it was utterly different from the lies he heard on the Central People’s Broadcasting Station. After he had been listening for a long time, he had fantasies about escaping to freedom himself but he was just an ordinary worker. How could he ever escape from the evil clutches of the dictatorship of the proletariat?
When the Cultural Revolution began, Huang Xuequan with the idea in mind of ‘giving it a try and see what happens’ wrote a letter to the mailbox address provided on the Voice of America broadcast. This was just a letter sent out to see if anyone would answer. He would never have guessed that that letter would have a disastrous effect on him.
Soon afterwards, Huang Xuequan got married and went on honeymoon. Soon after he returned, the security department of the factory got a summons from a court. That is how Huang Xuequan, was first detained and then formally arrested, completely to his own astonishment. After being sentenced in a nonsensical process, and realizing that he would not be allowed to return home, he began to regret what he had done.
– 398 –
Soon after he was imprisoned, not a year after their marriage, his beloved wife asked for a divorce. Huang Xuequan got very upset. He had never imagined that this could happen. He didn’t know what to do.
When he first arrived in prison, Huang Xuequan was just like Cao Jixian. He could only say one thing “Let me go home”.
In 1968 Huang was transferred from the Chengdu prison to the Yanyuan. He had been sentenced to fifteen years in prison for “the crime of betraying the country and going over to the enemy side”. Therefore he was quickly moved to the Sixth Brigade. While there, he bumped into his Chengdu neighbor Zhang Xikun.
Huang Xuequan couldn’t bear the hard labor, hunger and torture of prison life. Moreover he couldn’t stop thinking about his beloved wife so he immediately decided to “escape”. Thoughts of his wife made him think about escaping day and night. It had seemed to him that escaping was the only way he could rid himself of his pain.
During his three years in the Sixth Brigade he had tried to escape a dozen times. After every escape attempt not only would he be beaten but he had to return to a life of hard labor and oppression.
If a political prisoner had tried to escape as often as had Huang Xuequan, his head would have rolled long ago. A high proportion of the political prisoners shot during the Cultural Revolution were escapees. Five of them were killed in the Jiang Xuejun case. During every “Strike Hard” campaign, there were always some escaped counter-revolutionary prisoners shot.
Huang Xuequan, however, had not been executed thus far because he was ignorant, childish, and had no political agenda. After Huang Xuequan was put into leg irons, He Qingyun had somberly warned him that “the mercy of the people’s democratic dictatorship is not boundless. You have already escaped more than twenty times. I think that only a “shelled peanut” will be the only solution to your very cold thinking”. (A shelled peanut meant a bullet. The size and coloring of a shelled peanut resembled a bullet.) “Very cooled thinking” refers to how during an escape, the escapee and their pursuers run fast, making them feel a cooling breeze so it is called “cooled thinking”.)
Huang Xuequan was tense when Lin Chegao called him in. He wondered “Are they going to kill me this time? What will they ask me before they kill me?” When Huang Xuejin entering Lin Chegao’s office, Lin Chegao suddenly asked him something that had nothing to do with executing him: “Were you neighbors with Zhang Xikun?” Huang Xuequan answered coldly, “Yes”, then in a begging voice asked “I don’t want to die. I am too young. I want the government to give me another chance. I regret…”
Lin Chegao saw how anxious he was and told him a surprising decision: “The brigade, after studying your case, finally decided to give you one more chance. Your leg irons will be removed tomorrow and you will be sent to the second strict supervision group. If you try to escape again, that will be the end for you. If you distinguish yourself, we will consider, based on your achievements, treating your generously and perhaps even releasing you. Your fate depends entirely upon you.”
Huang Xuequan’s eyes brightened. This is what he had been hoping for day and night. Then he got depressed again, thinking of the long prison sentence ahead of him. How could he endure fifteen years of hard labor?
– 399 –
Lin Chegao continued, “The situation in the Sixth Brigade is extremely complicated. According to my understanding, Zhang Xikun is publishing an underground periodical called “The Torch“. If you can provide us with clues or even evidence I will see that your sentence is reduced. Do you understand me?”
Huang Xuequan’s eyes opened wide with astonishment and doubt. He didn’t dare imagine that the rifle aimed at his head could be turned aside so easily. He immediately understood that the path that Lin Chegao proposed for him would open in exchange for selling out someone. That someone however would be the same Zhang Xikun he had grown up with.
Although Zhang Xikun was a few years older than Huang Xuequan, they had been close friends ever since they were little. Their mothers too had been very friendly so the two families were good neighbors to one another. Since their two sons had been thrown into prison, the two women had supported in each other as they shared the same worries. Huang Xuequan didn’t think about it then, as he left Lin Chegao’s office, but although the leg irons were heavy, he would realize that once they were taken off, he have other heavy shackles weighing down on his conscience.
That evening, Huang Xuequan turned over the problem in his mind as he sat in his solitary cell. He couldn’t get to sleep. After the second time the guard checked on him, he sat up for a long time leaning against the wall. He noticed that the guard on patrol outside was no longer brutally harassing him.
Early the next morning, Shen Guanke came escorted by a soldier took a knife and hammer to open the 15 kilogram leg irons on his feet. When the leg irons were gone, his feet felt like they were floating in air. He went with Lin Chegao to the second strict management group. Chen Xianshi stared at him oddly when he came in.
Huang Xuequan had escaped from that group three months earlier. When he was taken back, Chen Xianshi had used his own belt to whip him like an animal dozens of times. Huang still had on his shoulders bloody marks from that whipping so he stared back furiously at Chen Xianshi.
Huang Xuequan did not feel relieved when he left the small prison. Should he try to “escape” again? Or should he be “loyal” to Lin Chegao and focus on what that implied? Should he do what Lin Chegao had asked him to do? He worried all day about what he should do.
Zhang Xikun, perceptive as he was, had already noticed that Huang Xuequan was “not in good spirits”. He did not realize than that Huang Xuequan was a deadly threat to him.
To help his childhood friend rid himself of his depression that about passing him “The Torch” so that he could understand the evil doings of the authorities and what he should be fight to achieve in the future but Xia Guangran objected.
Xia Guangran said that The Torch had just appeared, and to all indications, had already gotten the attention of the authorities. For now all the readers should be people who have no illusions about the authorities. Huang Xuequan’s own thinking was still very immature. He had gotten used to drifting from one job to the next. He had no political goals. Moreover ordinarily his views were different from people who belonged to The Torch group.
Moreover, for some reason the prison authorities had taken off his leg irons and let him out of the small prison. This was unusual. Until the reason for that became clear, he should be treated very cautiously until he had proven that he could be a loyal and reliable person before letting him read “The Torch“.
Unfortunately, Zhang Xikun did not heed Xia Guangran’s warning. In order to quickly cut off any connection between “The Torch” and the group should there be some accident while it was being passed around to read, everyone followed the rule of passing it along a “one way path”. Whoever received “The Torch” should within a set time return it to the person who had given it to them and not share it with anyone else.
Once Zhang Xikun got “The Torch” back from the vegetable group, he formally passed it to Huang Xuequan and told him that he must return it to him return it to him personally within two days.
– 400 –
Huang Xuequan was surprised that “The Torch” fell into his hands so quickly and easily. The next morning, Huang Xuequan read that underground publication secretly while he was in the toilet. Then he hesitated.
First of all, Huang Xuequan did not think that this “material” was particularly valuable. Everything in it was true. When he thought back to had Zhang Xikun had been a good childhood friend and how much he respected Zhang’s character, he felt that he couldn’t in good conscience sell out a good person. Lin Chegao was a tricky person anyways. There was not way of know that if he actually did give it to him, that Lin would actually fulfill his promise to get Huang’s sentence reduced.
Huang Xuequan thought that on the other hand, wouldn’t it be a shame to give up this chance for nothing now that it had fallen so easily into his hands? Lin Chegao had made his conditions clear. He could give him a try. He went back and forth but couldn’t decide. He sat there getting more and more anxious.
Zhang Xikun had given him a set time to return “The Torch” so he needed to make an immediate decision. Just as he was hesitating, he ran into Liu Ziyuan. He almost never spoke with the quiet Liu Ziyuan. He respected him very much. He had often seen how Liu Ziyuan would incite the younger prisoners to get into fights with the discipline and education department personnel but never display his own feelings. Now having run into him, he couldn’t resist asking him for advice.
Huang Xuequan handed “The Torch” to Liu Ziyuan and asked him quietly what he should do? Just at that moment, people in the yard were being told to go out to work so Liu Ziyuan put “The Torch” into his pocket and the two hurried out of the toilet.
Liu Ziyuan after reading the publication, realized that he had gotten a treasure. He had been tracking “The Torch” for months and not it had suddenly and unexpectedly fallen into his hands. The publication had articles written by four different people. Although the articles were unsigned but they were all handwritten. He recognized Zhang Xikun’s handwriting. Liu Ziyuan felt with this arrow ready to shoot on his bow he must shoot it now. He had already made the first step. Now he must keep on step by step.
His first thought was to give it immediately to Lin Chegao. He soon changed his mind when he realized that this issue, like the torn page from the previous one with the “Notice to all the fellow sufferers of the Sixth Brigade” would only provide evidence against one person — Zhang Xikun. Lin Chegao’s objective was to use Zhang Xikun as an opening to dig out the entire “counter-revolutionary clique” hidden within the Sixth Brigade. Relying just on this one issue of “The Torch” wouldn’t accomplish that, it would be like trampling on grass and alerting the snake. It would destroy all the clues he had collected earlier.
Liu Ziyuan decided that he would quickly return to the cell and return “The Torch” to Huang Xuequan and tell him that he must return it to Zhang Xikun at the appointed time.
Lin Chegao strongly approved of Liu Ziyuan’s tactic of “letting out a long like to catch a big fish”. “Now that The Torch has finally appeared, our main priority is to grab everyone who contributes to it. We want to catch them all.”
Lin Chegao called a meeting with Liu Ziyuan, Wang Shicun, Chen Xianshi and Huang Xueyuan and commended highly what Liu Ziyuan and Huang Xuequan had done. He praised Liu Ziyuan for his “quick thinking”. He told them that in addition to finding out who was writing for “The Torch” he wanted to find out who it was being passed to so that he could uncover the entire network. He wanted to catch them in the act so that he would have all the evidence he needed.
Some pieces of scum had uncovered the network and has secretly surrounded Zhang Xikun and his group. Each of those dogs exposing the network had his own agenda.
The most energetic of them all was Chen Xianshi but unfortunately he was also the least able. In Lin Chegao’s notes, he remarked that now that the case has come this far, Chen Xianshi no longer had any role to play but Lin gave him a task nonetheless because he liked him. One of those tasks keeping Liu Ziyuan and Wang Shichun “under surveillance”.
– 401 –
Liu Ziyuan very much despised Chen Xianshi and was most displeased that Chen was involved.
Wang Shichun was the one who understood Zhang Xikun best. Wang Shichun didn’t like Lin Chegao’s arrogance and had not respect for Chen Xianshi either. He knew by intuition among which of the men “The Torch” was circulating. That was, however, intuition and not proof. Therefore he was unwilling to tell Chen Xianshi whom he suspected and not even willing to share it with Lin Chegao.
Huang Xuequan was the most ignorant of all. He hadn’t thought about what he was getting into and after he got into it he had no idea about what to do. He his only interest was that Lin Chegao’s generosity was what was keeping him alive. He was aware that he had gotten “The Torch” very easily but had lost his opportunity to deliver it to Lin Chegao himself. Just because he was careless and gave it to someone else, Huang Xuequan lost his chance to get the credit for it since Liu Ziyuan instead taken most of the credit.
Huang Xuequan, as the childhood friendship with Zhang Xikun, was the one best suited to get from Zhang Xikun’s mouth the names of the members of “The Torch” group. Huang, however, was very hostile to Chen Xianshi and did not want to “cooperate” with him in this dirty affair even though Lin Chegao get telling him that he must do what Chen Xianshi assigned him to do. Huang Xuequan also felt that Wang Shichun should mind his own business.
The four of them break the big “The Torch” case had very strange relationships with one other! Chen Xianshi carried a notebook all day, watching Zhang Xikun and noting down who he was with, the time and the place. Whenever Zhang Xikun went to the toilets, Chen followed him, thinking that he would be able to seize evidence but never found anything.
When the strict supervision group went out to work, they were always escorted by armed guards so “The Torch” was usually passed from one person to another in the toilets. Many times Zhang Xikun’s bed was secretly searched after he went out to work. The searches always came up empty. Even publications which they had seen before vanished suddenly without a trace.
Section Four The November 8th Battle of Wits
The morning of November 8, 1974 was a particularly cold and cloudy Sunday and a whistling wind coming from the north. After breakfast all the exiles huddled on their beds and got out their needles to repair their ragged cotton-padded clothes. Only one or two people walked around in the courtyard. Chen Xianshi then sat on his bunk near a window pretending to read with a copy of the Chinese Communist Party political theory journal “Red Flag” in his hand, covering his face but with his eyes focused on the courtyard.
At 9 AM, Zhou Zhi came to the door of the first strict supervision group and glanced in the direction of Zhang Xikun who was sitting in the middle of the room. Zhang Xikun was sitting in his bed copying from “A Political History of China” and seemed not to notice him.
Zhou Zhi walked slowly away from the doorway and then towards the toilets at an unhurried pace. About fifteen minutes later, Zhang Xikun slowly got out of bed and walked casually over to the toilets.
Chen Xianshi, when he saw Zhang Xikun make that move, he turned towards Huang Xuequan and signaled him. Huang Xuequan then walked with Zhang to the toilets. Cai Xianlu secretly got out of bed and in a strange voice called out a warning to Zhang Xikun. Chen Xianshi got out of bed and walked straight to the brigade office.
That day, after Zhou Zhi finished reading “The Torch”, he prepared to return it in the toilets according to Zhang Xikun’s rule. Just as Zhou Zhi took out “The Torch” to pass it to Zhang Xikun, Huang Xuequan walked into the toilets. Zhang Xikun put “The Torch” and a “leaflet” that he had picked up into his cotton-padded jacket. When he saw Huang Xuequan come in, he hesitated for a moment. When he heard Cai Xianlu’s voice yelling to him, then he realized that something had gone wrong.
– 402 –
Zhou Zhi hurriedly put his head out to look around the corner of the toilets to see Lin Chegao hurrying towards the toilets. He cried out involuntarily “This is no good!”. When he spoke to Zhang Xikun, Zhang hurriedly took out “The Torch”, tore it into bits, and stuffed it into his mouth.
Hurrying footsteps could already be heard outside the toilets and now Lin Chegao flew into the toilets. Huang Xuequan had already gotten up to stop Zhang Xikun from swallowing “The Torch” paper. The two men fell into a heap as they wrestled with one another. Lin Chegao yelled when he came into the toilets and pounced on Zhang Xikun. Immediately, Lin Chegao, Chen Xianshi, and Huang Xuequan were fighting with Zhang Xikun and Zhou Zhiwu. One side was furiously tearing up and destroying “The Torch” while the other was furiously trying to grab torn pieces of “The Torch” from that Zhang Xikun and Zhou Zhi had put in their mouths.
At this moment, the sentry post rang the alarm bell and He Qingyun hurried in with two soldiers who sealed off the toilets and the exiles who now filled the courtyard. Some tried to move towards the toilets but the armed soldiers stopped them.
Two minutes later, Zhou Zhi was escorted out of the toilets with his arms tied behind his back. Just behind him, He Qingyun and a soldier escorted Zhang Xikun out with Chen Xianshi and Huang Xuequan following behind. He Qingyun ordered the exiles to disperse and escorted Zhang Xikun out the iron gate.
The onlookers wearing worried expressions discussed what had happened in a low voice. Only Liu Ziyuan and Wang Shichun stood together far away from the others at the door to the second strict supervision group.
He Qingyun called to the guard tower. Soon, all the soldiers stationed at the Sixth Brigade entered the courtyard. Within five minutes, all the exiles were forced back into their cells and the Sixth Brigade imposed a curfew.
Lin Chegao stood by himself in the toilets. He took the fragments of “The Torch” torn from Zhang Xikun and Zhou Li that had fallen on the floor, collected them one-by-one and put them in a corner of the mortar wall. He took some fire tongs and collected the scraps that had fallen into the shit pit one-by-one as well and put them together with the bits on the toilet corner wall. Finally, he took the Red Guard Rebel Faction pamphlets taken from Zhou Zhi that had fallen to the floor and put them together. He took out the camera that he had taken along with him and took picture from different angles.
At the same time, He Qingyun telephoned an urgent report to farm headquarters. Deng Yanguang immediately issued his “instructions”: Thirty management and education department cadres would be immediately sent to the Sixth Brigade. He Qingyun was ordered to keep the Sixth Brigade tightly sealed and not allow anyone to leave, and for He Qingyun to mobilize all the guard resources to closely monitor people all the designated as key people so that they will not be able to destroy evidence of counter-revolutionary activities.
At 10 AM, the Sixth Brigade office was filled with management and education department cadres sent by farm headquarters. Lin Chegao divided up the people who had just come to the Sixth Brigade into nine groups. Each group was led by a Sixth Brigade cadre.
Then, the cheerful whistle blew to order an urgent assembly in the courtyard. All the exiles of the Sixth Brigade lined up in eight columns.
He Qingyun, with his armed clasped behind his back, and a somber expression told the group that there would be an immediate “major inspection”. He announced the “Five Forbiddens” inspection rules:
Nobody was permitted to leave where they were sitting,
Nobody was permitted to leave where they were sitting,
Nobody was allowed to go to the toilet,
Nobody was allowed to pass any thing or any scrap of paper back and forth,
Nobody was allowed to whisper in another person’s ear, and
Nobody was allowed to look around can cast glances on the others.
The soldiers on the guard tower installed four machine guns. The atmosphere in the courtyard became very tense. The cold weather felt even colder. All the exiles felt terrorized. None dared even to lift their heads.
– 403 –
A search group made up of 30 education and discipline department officers and armed personnel wearing big face masks stood in front of each of the line of each of the groups and inspected each prison slave’s luggage one-by-one.
As one of the people on the brigade blacklist, I was one of the prime suspects for being a member of “The Torch” group. An education and discipline officer from farm headquarters and He Qingyun carried out my “key inspection”.
When the inspection began, I was still a member of the vegetable group. The two followed me step-by-step into the cell. The ordered me to take all my luggage out to the prison yard and then to take all the sod on my bunk out and carry it to a different corner of the yard.
They had me tear up the sod in front of them to prove that nothing was hidden inside it. Then they ordered me to take the planks in my bed apart.
The two inspected all sides of it to make sure that there were no “holes” in which something might be hidden. Then they took up each board to make sure that there weren’t any pieces of paper hidden between them. Then they checked for cracks in the wall, the roof and even in the tiles.
Finally they climbed off the bed to search the mud under the bed with a flashlight. They knocked on any suspicious place as if to check if something were hidden down below. Then they checked all around the bed. The inspection of the bed alone took over two hours.
The area under the bed hadn’t been swept for a long time so the dust and damp smell was stifling. Wearing big face masks themselves, they forced me to move things around for them. After they found that there was nothing suspicious, they escorted me out to the yard to my luggage, had me sit in a lotus posture and ordered me not to look around!
Then the two men started to “dissect” my pile of rotting luggage. They used knives to cut open my old leather suitcase, cutting open every layer and every crevice in it including the lock that could no longer lock and the handle. Finally, when they had proven that nothing had been hidden in the leather suitcase, they threw it aside.
When I saw how those things that had accompanied me for fifteen years had been taken apart, the scene of that day I had walked to the train station seventeen years and deep feelings of distress surged up in my mind.
Then they took from the mess of my overturned luggage my notebook and all my paper and threw it into a barrel. Then they opened up my ragged cotton covers and ten pound cotton bedspread and used a knife to slash open the cotton bed mattress.
That cotton mattress I had put together in my spare time with thousands of stitches from pieces of cotton wadding and cotton cloth torn from old cotton quilting. When they opened those stitches they found a pile of old rotting cotton. The two men felt every lump in the cotton and didn’t stop until they were sure that there was nothing in it.
Once they finished tearing apart the cotton mattress, they tore apart my quilt the same way. Once they had torn off the ten-odd patches on the quilt, they pulled out all the cotton batting inside and then felt all the clumps in the cotton.
The sky slowly darkened. The inspection went on for a full ten hours — from 10 o’clock in the morning until 8 o’clock in the evening. They kept right on without taking a break.
When once the sky over the Sixth Brigade went dark, the sentries turned on searchlights. The searchlights were like two dragons monitoring covetously every corner of the yard. But this time, where I was sitting was just a mass of torn scraps of cloth and cotton. Everything I owned including those books I had gotten with great difficulty, my notes and letters had all been thrown into the basket.
– 404 –
After the inspection was finished, He Qingyun ordered me to stand up and take off my cotton-padded clothes. Those cotton clothes weighed over ten pounds. I had made it from ten pieces of cloth. It was very ugly but kept me warm all winter. Now the cadre from farm headquarters without any explanation took his knife and took apart that treasure I needed to protect myself during the winter.
That evening was very cold. Our breath turned to frost in midair as we exhaled. I stood there shivering in my underwear, my teeth chattering, illuminated by the searchlights cold light. I had been stripped clean down to my underpants. They hadn’t found anything they were looking for. Then finally they ordered me to take off my underpants and bend over and open my buttocks to make sure that there was nothing hidden inside.
That might have been the most thorough inspection I had in my entire life but I didn’t feel it since I was shivering so hard that all my attention was focused on enduring the cold. I felt a flash of temper and protested to He Qingyun several times, “What are you doing? This is no way to treat people even when you are punishing them.” The man from farm headquarters stared at me and then tossed over the cotton vest he had finished inspecting over to me to put over my shoulders.
I thought that if it it hadn’t been for the flames of fury that had burned in my chest I would have simply frozen to death. Several times my teeth chattered so hard that I bit into my lips and blood dripped out of my mouth.
The search continued until 11 PM when the prison slaves were chased into their cells. Zhang Xikun was jailed in the small prison from which he never emerged. They transferred me from the vegetable group to the second strict supervision group. I slept on Zhang Xikun’s old bed.
The chaos from the inspection confronted me back in our cell. I glanced at that broken leather suitcase that had accompanied me for eighteen years and felt a nameless fury rise within me. I felt my body burning with rage.
After casting aside the broken leather suitcase, I could only use a ragged cloth bag to hold clothes that needed to be washed and sit quietly on the bed. The bed covering and the mattress had been cut into strips. I couldn’t get to sleep. I felt as if I had just climbed out of a frozen hole in the ground. I didn’t feel any warm air at all.
Just then, at about 2 AM, I thought about Zhang Xikun. Although he had long since been prepared for martyrdom, I felt very badly for him.
Like Chen Li, he had not been able to leave behind anything to remember him by. If I were to be the slightest bit careless, in this environment in which people are killed like flies, I could bring down upon me the same fate.
The searchlight shone in the yard all night. The only sound I heard was the north wind intermittently whistling through in the tile roof and the sounds of guards on patrol.
(2) Standing up in Self defense
Under the yellow lights of my cell, I sat bundled up in my torn quilt remembering in detail the events of the day.
We had every right to protest to the authorities about the unreasonable inspection we had suffered but everyone was stupefied with terror as they never had been before. The warriors of “The Torch” had not had time to react and so no-one protested.
Today our jailers had not found anything but I didn’t think that they would give up. Lin Chegao despite this extremely through search, had found not a single word that could be “evidence” linked to “The Torch”. When I thought about that, I felt a little warmer and my head began to clear.
– 405 –
Today I still can’t accept their crazed inspection and senseless brutality. Lin Chegao and He Qingyun should have a guilty conscience for what they did. I should never stop reminding them of it.
When I thought of it, I got braver and yelled in a loud voice to the courtyard, “I am cold, give me cotton-padded clothing.” That sound sounded all the sharper, like a bomb exploding in the night sky, because of the desolate silence in the Sixth Brigade courtyard.
I don’t know whether it was because they were too tired or because the butchers had a guilty conscience, the sentry did not pay attention to my yells. That evening was just like that one at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution nine years before.
I shouted loudly again. This time the light of a flashlight appeared at the main gate. He Qingyun, carrying ragged cotton clothing walked over to me and threw it down beside me. He threatened me in a fierce voice saying, “Kong Lingping, you need to behave. This isn’t 1966. Don’t be stupid.”
I immediately seized the opportunity to scold him, “What right did you have to tear up my cotton clothes and bed cover. Those were things that the government gave me out of its humanitarianism. You tore them up as if they were nothing, as if you didn’t know what they represent.” I criticized him in that tone in order to break up the atmosphere of terror that he had so painstakingly created.
I knew that everyone in the building was watching or listening to my protest. He Qingyun had no idea that I would make a loud protest to the prison authorities. He had torn up my clothes and bed cover in a mindless fury. He Qingyun and Lin Chegao were at odds on the issue of the counter-revolutionary group in the Sixth Brigade. Lin Chegao’s making of a big thing of the case amounted to a complete rejection of He Qingyun’s education and management of the Sixth Brigade.
Confronted with that, He Qingyun probably was secretly thinking, Lin Chegao does not deserve an ounce of the credit for what the Sixth Brigade has achieved during these years. Lin Chegao not only failed to intimidate this prime culprit Kong Lingping, Kong is using it to attack us. How will Lin Chegao solve that problem?
For show, he yelled in a low voice, “It is late at night and I don’t want to argue with you. You need to be clear about one thing. People naturally will want to get even with you.” After he said that, he turned and walked out through the main gate.
I didn’t want to give up that opportunity so I followed up, “What evidence to you have to tie my case up with Zhang Xikun’s? Why did you put me in the strict management group? Because I had been quiet all these years? Because you can just do anything because you feel like it? Are you supposed to be implementing the decision of the Wuhan Public Security Work Conference that strictly forbade striking and cursing prisoners and using torture to make them confess? Lin Chegao himself alone is responsible for what happened in today’s search.”
That angry complaint was based on my intuition that He Qingyun would hear my meaning and understand what I was aiming at. He and Lin led two constantly battling factions. I wanted to make full use of the conflict between the two factions.
My loud complaint to He Qingyun was meant to help calm the people who wrote and passed around “The Torch”. I was telling them that there was a split within our rulers, that they were very weak, and that we can use the conflict between them. Don’t lose waver because Zhang Xikun and Zhou Zhi were now locked up in the small prison. Above all, don’t fail to see the real situation because of the performance put on by those ugly clowns.
He Qingyun didn’t say a word, thereby ending our “verbal battle”. His footsteps moved quickly to the courtyard and quickly disappeared behind the prison’s main iron gate.
– 406 –
In the dim light I put on the cotton-padded clothes that he had brought for me. They were much warmer than my old, patched a thousand times “suit of armor”. As the threat of cold receded, I felt relieved.
Things went back to normal. The previous night’s atmosphere of terror quickly dissipated. When the Sixth Brigade went out to work the next day, we were noisy and making jokes as usual.
The next morning I went out to work with the strict supervision group. With empty hands I went to the field improvement work area. I didn’t have any tools so I went to the carts full of mud to help move them and dump soil. I hadn’t sleep the previous night so when afternoon came, I felt like my eyelids were weighed down by hammers and wanted to go to sleep.
Just at that moment He Qingyun came walked through the fields to us. I didn’t want to pay attention to him but he saw me standing alone in the field without having a hoe in hand to dig in the soil and not going to load the soil cart so he asked me with a very cold expression “Why are you just standing there?”
“Didn’t you see that the cart is not full yet?” I answered him coldly. “Where are you tools?” “With the vegetable group.” “Why didn’t you bring them?” “What use would those tools be here for carrying shit buckets, shit ladles, and carrying poles be of any use here?” I answered with a laugh.
Everyone in the strict supervision group stopped and stared at me. I knew that every move I made would have an effect on the prison slaves. The soldiers accompanying the group were also looking on in astonishment. After years of silence, I was astonishing them by showing my old cutting edge.
He Qingyun was a mass of contradictions. He hadn’t wanted yesterday’s sudden inspection to find the charter of the “The Torch” and the names of the members of the group but he was also didn’t know what to do about his biggest headaches, those ringleaders who despite all his “hard work” were still determined not to remold themselves. He didn’t feel that he pound on his chest claiming that he was in the right but he didn’t dare get into an open dispute with Lin Chegao in front of the discipline and education department either.
The search hadn’t turned up any evidence. Lin Chegao had come up empty. That made He Qingyun secretly happy, even to the point of not getting into an argument with me when I belittled him to blow off some steam.
Lin Chegao certainly was very disappointed. He had spent an entire six months thinking that he could catch a big fish in the Sixth Brigade. Yet the only one caught on the spot with Zhang Xikun was Zhou Zhi. Although it was said that they were caught in the act of passing “The Torch”, but Zhou Zhi would not be of any use. At most he was just a person peripheral to the group. None of the other prime Torch suspects were caught. They found no evidence of a counter-revolutionary organization. They found neither a charter nor a list of names.
Even with a copy of “The Torch” and several Red Guard pamphlets about “rebelling to the end”, they still did not have enough to make a case against the group so Lin Chegao was trying to figure out how to open the mouths of those men to give him what he needed. How could he face He Qingyun’s ridicule if he were to put all the “suspects” into the small prison?
The second day Zhang Xikun was put in the small prison, Lin Chegao had him transferred from the small prison to a secret newly built prison built next to the forestry brigade. There was barbed wire on the walls. The people there were not prisoner or people freed after finishing their sentences. They were a group of workers brought there from who knows where.
– 407 –
Lin Chegao was very skeptical about the Sixth Brigade’s ability to keep things secret. He was afraid that if Zhang Xikun was kept confined in the Sixth Brigade, there would be communication between the small prison and the big prison. He needed strict isolation so that he could find contradictions in the confessions of the people being interrogated. With that he could make a breakthrough and so the interrogations would be more productive.
From then on, there was no contact between Zhang Xikun and the political prisoners of the Sixth Brigade. The Xichang regional court and the Sichuan Superior Court organized a special investigation team that focused on “The Torch” case. All they found however, was just a handwritten publication that Zhang Xikun and Zhou Zhi had passed between themselves. The testimony that Chen Xianshi and Liu Ziyuan provided was seemed to be right but was actually wrong. There was not enough evidence and so there were arguments about whether confessions “accepted” or “rejected”.
Fortunately we could use the split between Lin Chegao and He Qingyuan to oppose Lin Chegao. This was a battle of courage and wits. We could have been killed if any of us were to say the wrong thing during our interrogations.
(2) Charging Headlong Into Danger
In this battle of courage and wits, we were proud that all of the members of “The Torch” realized that it was all for one and one for all so all this made the political prisoners of the Sixth Brigade more mature.
One evening, He Qingyun called me to his office. The Cultural Revolution had been underway for nearly a decade. Although He Qingyun has called me to his office several times each year, most of our conversations had been one-on-one. Most of our conversations were about conflicts between the discipline and education department and myself, after political cases such as the Lin Biao incident or to ask me my attitude towards an ongoing “Strike Hard” campaign. This time it was different.
When I walked into He Qingyun’s office, I saw two unfamiliar men sitting next to him. The two men had unfamiliar expressions on their faces. I guessed that they were part of the special team investigating the Zhang Xikun case. One of the men seemed to be in charge of the interrogation while the other took notes.
I sat calmly on a wooden bench and waited for their questions. I knew that while He Qingyun was superficially on the jury in this case in fact he was the star in this performance.
He Qingyun and I had had many conversations and so we knew each other quite well. I knew that He Qingyun was not at all persuaded that this “counter-revolutionary gang case” that Lin Chegao was pushing hard was a real one so I had some margin to defend “The Torch“. Although I had already several times in the previous few days accused Lin Chegao of making groundless accusations. He Qingyun made a pretense of stopping me but from his expression on his face I could see that he wanted to encourage me to make get my bold criticisms off my chest.
I also knew that there was no legal procedure to Chinese Communist preliminary hearings. There was no relying on the facts to reach a conclusion. Just the opposite, first they drew the conclusion, then they designed a confession to match it. That is why there were so many people wrongfully convicted.
This time we were at the tail end of the Cultural Revolution. Now that the Wuhan Work Conference has given the highest level guidance to “Focus on evidence and strictly forbid forced confessions”, there were some constraints against blindly jumping from first impressions to conclusions.
Before the interrogation started, He Qingyun hid something that he had copied out to give the impression that he had a well-thought out plan but I thought he was faking it.
For several days I had taken the initiative at the works found that lacking evidence, he had gone ahead and done an irregular major inspection had been carried out using unreasonable methods including tearing up clothing and bed coverings. I realized that He Qingyun was at wit’s end now that he was confronted by the superior court’s special investigation team for “The Torch” case. After several minutes of awkward silence, the chief interrogator asked me my name and birthplace. and then went straight into his interrogation:
“Today we are formally interrogating you about “The Torch” case. Don’t beat about the bush. You need to honestly answer the questions we put to you.”
– 408 –
I wanted to reject his premise and reply that since I had nothing to do with “The Torch”, I was entitled to say nothing at all. But I repressed that impulse and listened to what he said.
“First of all, I want you to honestly tell us everything you know about “The Torch“. We want you to take the initiative to tell us what happened. According to policy, if you tell the truth you can get a reduced sentence. If you resist, you will be treated harshly.”
I immediately replied. “What leads you to believe that I know anything about “The Torch”? What do you want me to say?” “Don’t pretend. We have a great deal of evidence and information from interrogations that proves that you are a member of “The Torch” group. Today we want you to honestly confess. You should know that resistance is futile.”
He Qingyun laughed coldly as if there was a well-thought out plan. I realized that that he really thought just the reverse. The interrogator continued, saying, “We want you to tell us the names of “The Torch” group and their program of action. We don’t need to remind you about what you did yourself, now do we?
“No wonder Cadre He often searched my things and now he has given up hope. The reports you have don’t amount to anything. If you have all the evidence you need, then why do you need to interrogate me today?” I answered firmly.
My response confounded the interrogator. After two minutes of silence, when it seemed that the interrogation could go no further, he changed the topic. “Have you read “The Torch”, the interrogator asked, now clearly trying to find another route of attack.
“If I say that I haven’t read it, then you have already according to the hot air that discipline and education officer Lin has been letting out, at least half the people in the Sixth Brigade have read it. I am of course already in the group that you firmly believe is involved. So if I answer truthfully that I know nothing about it, you won’t believe me. However I don’t think that we should have a useless argument about whether or not I have read “The Torch“.”
“Didn’t you say that “The Torch” is full of rumors and that it slanders the Chinese Communist Party so why don’t you put it out there in the open and criticize it? Why not allow us to enrich our experience? That would be just what you have done before by publishing in your newspapers reactions articles so that everyone can criticize them. If it is just criticizing you, then you should understand very well that that is completely different from calling for the overthrow of the Communist Party and the government and inciting violence. I think that you need to make a clear principled distinction between criticizing you and organizing counter-revolution. Charges of counter-revolution are not to be made arbitrarily. From what I know, involved in “The Torch” case are some pamphlets that you distributed. What kind of absurd counter-revolutionary organization is that then?”
The preliminary hearing officer from Xichang was astonished at my response. Probably among the political prisoners whom they had met in prison, there were very few who could make such a telling counterattack who could expose the nature of the authorities and make a strict distinction between that and the charges that they were being made.
They understood that the evidence “that had been obtained” was at most only revelations of the dark side of the rule of the Chinese Communists from a pamphlet. That could well be just the work of one person or a group of people. To make from that a counter-revolutionary organization was something that could only come from the wild imaginings of mentally disturbed people.
– 409 –
This made me think of the big character poster that Pu Shiguang and the “editors of the voice of those who were not members of the Communist Youth League” that had given rise to wrongful convictions for organizing a counter-revolutionary gang. Local officers of the Communist Party were not even understand basic legal definitions and so just made them up as them up for themselves, turning them into reflections of their own barbarism and ignorance.
It was already clear what cards they held in their hands. I had thoroughly refuted their conclusion that they had made about a “counter-revolutionary gang”. Therefore who would draw up the charges against the others since all the cases are alike? It just didn’t make any sense to go any further or to ask any more questions. My interrogation ended hastily with that.
Then Liu Shunsen, Xia Guangran, Chen Rongkang, and Deng Zixin, whom they considered to be prime “Torch” suspects were interrogated the same way. Since my reply had become one of the main threads in the case, the court didn’t find any evidence.
Lin Chegao’s hope that he would find materials about a “counter-revolutionary” group through the interrogations was in vain.
Section Five The Warriors of “The Torch” Have A Clear Conscience Down to the Present Day
Now the main cause for concern was the safety of Zhang Xikun and Zhou Zhi in the special small prison next to the Forestry brigade. Zhang Xikun was in a particularly dangerous situation since he was being held in strict isolation. That made is easiest for the Chinese Communists to use their methods of deception and terror to reach their goal of a breakthrough on the case. They use those kind of methods when they framed Jiang Zhengjun’s “counter-revolutionary gang”, implicating dozens of people and manufacturing a story about a “counter-revolutionary organization”.
All of us had faith in Zhang Xikun’s strong character. Not afraid of being a martyr for the truth, he would hold firm and be worthy of everyone’s respect. We blamed ourselves for not being able to rescue him and had great confidence that he would be able to defeat all the tricks and deceptions the authorities threw at him.
Lin Chegao did not accept defeat. In March 1975, he again locked up Liu Shunsen and Xia Gurangran in the Sixth Brigade’s small prison. Although the authorities took great pains to isolate Zhang Xikun, they were not able to cut off Zhang Xikun’s contact with his comrades-in-arms in the Sixth Brigade. Less than two weeks later, the Forestry Brigade heard from a worker at the special small prison and so they became aware of the living conditions of Zhang Xikun and the others.
According to the information from the Forestry Brigade, although Zhang Xikun and Zhou Zhi were being kept in strict isolation, they hadn’t yet been tortured. Everyday people from the Superior Court made “humanitarian” psychological warfare on them. Meals were sent to them from the farm headquarters cadre’s cafeteria. That made me think of what conditions had been like for Chen Li and myself eleven years before in the small prison.
(1) An interrogation
Zhang Xikun was the one in the most danger! In Mainland China prisons, leaders who “organized a counter-revolutionary gang and intended to overthrow the people’s democratic dictatorship” faced the death penalty.
By November 8, the authorities still hadn’t found any evidence except for the publication that had been taken from Zhang in the toilets. The court had no evidence upon which it could base a conviction. Now a finding of guilt could only be based on testimony from Zhang Xikun and ourselves. That was way Zhang Xikun had been captured and locked away in the small prison for a while. Whether he and the others in “The Torch” group lived or died depended upon his testimony.
Soon we heard from the Forestry Brigade about Zhang Xikun’s interrogation. Interrogator: “Now we will explain policy to you once again. The copy of “The Torch” we got from you had been copied by you by hand. The periodical that you published proves that you are a capable organizer. The articles in that publication, in their style and content are certainly not the work on only one person but rather by a group of people. You know that organizing counter-revolutionary propaganda in prison normally results in the death penalty but here we still take the attitude of trying to help a sick person with the objective of transforming them. If you quickly make an honest confession about yourself and your fellows, we can still, in the spirit of the policy of “merit counterbalancing guilt and so giving a lighter sentence to someone who tells the truth to reduce your degree of criminal responsibility or even grant you amnesty. You need to think carefully about that.”
– 410 –
Zhang Xikun: “I have already clearly told you many times that “The Torch” that you found was my personal project. I think that your technical studies will come to that conclusion. You have already turned the Sixth Brigade upside down. How can you not accept the results of your own search? Therefore I believe that you shouldn’t be trying to complicate things. As for your claim that I am not ready to die and that I am a troublemaker, I have been hearing this from you for decades. Do you really think that if the hungry people of this country will revolt and overthrow you is a reactionary plot to regain their lost paradise? Is that just ridiculous? There are more and more people in those classes that you had thought exterminated. What does that mean? I am a student and I am an ordinary person who is stuck deeply in an abyss of suffering. I not a member of those despised classes that you believe have been exterminated.”
“Of course power is in your hands. Today you can do whatever you want to do. If you want to kill me, you can kill me. But can you kill all those ordinary people that you have you have taught yourself and now oppose you? We have deep differences in how we understand the world and so we will never reach agreement. As for your claim that I organized a counter-revolutionary organization that is your subjective belief. Thinking that you can get me to confess to the counter-revolutionary organization that exists only in your imaginations you have created in your minds is just wishful thinking. I urge you to stop wasting your time. I won’t sign won’t sign the confession that you want.”
Those words took the interrogators by surprise. The interrogator said, “Then I want to ask you, which articles were written by you, which ones were written by others such as Liu Shunsen and Kong Lingping? We have sufficient proof that they were your co-conspirators. You can’t cover up for them.”
The interrogators were using methods they were confident in to force Zhang Xikun to confess. That is the customary method of the Chinese Communists: confessions substitute for evidence and suppositions substitute for facts. They thought that they could force Zhang Xikun to tell them the name of the other members of the “gang”.
Zhang Xikun answered unhurriedly, “You will suspect any Chinese who will not bend to your repression and despotism and dares to tell the truth. After all these years, what Chinese person is there who has not suffered from starvation and the cold? How many more pretty lies have you concocted?”
“For many years, you have deceived the people. You have spoken nonsense about bumper harvests in agriculture and about great achievements in manufacturing and forced peasants in people’s communes to eat grass and bark and starve to death on their own land. Urban residents and workers were even tricked into making small furnaces to forge a pile of useless scrap iron. You have been telling lies for fifteen years about catching up to Britain and surpassing America and left the people without even homes that can shelter them from the wind and the rain.”
“You are imitating the Founding Emperor of the Qin Dynasty who wrongly convicted many innocent people of crimes throughout the country. You used the people to conquer the country and turn it into a hell on earth where no one dares to speak out. It isn’t enough that you force good people to endure starvation. You want them to sing songs of praise to the Great Helmsman and to the Communist Party as the people’s savior and to force them to prepare for war and natural disasters.”
“You are responsible for the fact that the bodies of the dead lie strewn everywhere. Blaming the evil fruits of your policies on heaven above or the Soviet Union below is just shameful. Future generations will never forget that you incited blind and ignorant young people to fight the bloody battles of the Cultural Revolution for the sake of propagating their crazy dreams.”
– 411 –
“You have already all of China a hell on earth. Your crimes are obvious. What need is there for me to write about them. Even if I write about them, they can be characterized by a single proverb: “they are just not enough paper to write them all down”. During the Cultural Revolution you forced us to make confessions before a statue of Mao Zedong. Your people “seek instructions in the morning, and report your thoughts in the evening” and write essays declaring one’s loyalty. That is just ridiculous.”
“As far as what you say about Liu Shunsen and Kong Lingping, and I am sure that you suspect others, I am certain that among all the two hundred people in the Sixth Agricultural Brigade, there is not one who does not hate you in the bottom of his heart. The torture and the beatings is the only reason that accept your tyrannical behavior. You are determined to think that the people who oppose you are members of a well-organized gang but that is just nonsense that you made up yourself. If that were really true, haven’t you just become a very small minority of isolated elements? Didn’t you say yourself that the counter-revolutionaries are just a small minority?”
“Liu Shusen, Kong Lingping and the others are my good prison friends. That is completely different from what you infer to be a “counter-revolutionary organization”. We did not establish any organization and wrote no charter. We believe that the actions we take in prison to oppose you does not need any charter to bind us together. You don’t need to be racking your brains about it.”
The interrogator’s question drew stern responses from Zhang Xikun. They became the ones interrogated by Zhang Xikun. The interrogators could not use their customary methods of forcing a confession against someone who saw death as if it were a return home so nothing was recorded on the official interrogation record.
Of course Zhang Xikun was a admirable man of iron. The people handling his case did not understand and could not answer his questions to them. A low ranking interrogator, even if they had no proof, could only base their conclusion on the facts of the case.
The interrogator continued, “Well, I can see that you are still determined to resist. The others won’t do the same. They will explain their issues. Now we will give you more time to think things over carefully. How about us coming back and see you after you have come around? Now you need to explain other issues connected to “The Torch”. When did you write “The Torch”? How many articles did you write? What were your motives and objectives? Who read your “The Torch”? How did you pass “The Torch” from person to person?….”
This can be captured completely by the words the Chinese Communists used to use in those years, “A single spark can light a prairie fire!” This was a spark for China’s democratic movement and a spark to destroy the hell that Mao Zedong had created.
The “The Torch” interrogations continued this way from their start in December 1974 until they concluded a full eight months later. The Sixth Brigade superficially became peaceful once again. I transferred from the strict supervision group to the fieldwork group.
Liu Shunsen and Xia Guangran, who for a time had been locked away in the small prison, were released from these and returned to the main prison. Zhou Zhi and Zhang Xikun, however, remained locked away in the big prison. We heard from time to time their bravery in their confrontations with their interrogators. We heard all these stories from workers who managed the special small prison.
Zhang Xikun and his magnificent force of character defeated the people who were keeping him locked up in the small prison. When the workers spoke about Zhang Xikun, they all made thumbs up gestures. We all knew that if it weren’t for the courage of Zhang Xikun standing up to the arrogance and bluster of those butchers, Lin Chegao would have succeeded in making an absolute mess of the Sixth Brigade.
In those days there was a big earthquake in Xichang. The rumors came while we were still in our earthquake shelters, gathered together and so more easily able to compare notes on the political situation around the country and to calmly consider what our policy should be towards them. “The Torch” could no longer be published. That torch raised in hell did nonetheless shed its light on many souls living there.
Among the four renegades, Chen Shi was the most fortunate. He had only been sentenced to five years. He muddled through three years in prison. Lin Chegao’s proposal for his early release was accepted without difficulty.
(2) The Meeting
In August 1975, the Xichang District Court signed its judgment in the case of Zhang Xikun’s counter-revolutionary gang. Zhang Xikun was sentenced to death. The judgment was to be implemented immediately. Zhou Zhi was sentenced to death with a delay of two years for reconsideration if he behaved well.
– 412 –
Hard counterattacks on anyone who appeared even slightly to be taking the lead in political opposition to the authorities was the only method Mao Zedong’s tyranny had. Zhang Xikun paid with his life for carelessness in passing along “The Torch”. What was so brave and admirable about Zhang Xikun was that he sacrificed his life in order to cut all the links between “The Torch” and the other members of the group. In June, the head of the special group of the Xichang Intermediate Court that investigated Zhang Xikun conducted the last interrogation.
The head of the special group said: “We already indicted you according to the evidence that the Xichang Procuratorate provided on your prison counter-revolutionary gang and counter-revolutionary publication. After eight months of investigation and determining the truth of the matter, your case will be resolved according to the regulations of the People’s Republic of China on punishing counter-revolution. Your will be “sentenced to death, to be implemented immediately, permission to do so having been given by the Supreme Court”. Even at this very last moment, in order to spare you this, hope that you will give us a full report about your organization and collaborators. This is your last chance. If you can tell us who the other members of “The Torch” gang are, we can still, based on the Party’s policy of rewarding meritorious deeds, reconsider your sentence. We can even go so far as to pledge to you, that if you choose to make an honest confession, that we can save your life and even go so far as to consider special handling of your case. We will give you just three days to think things over and hope that you will give this careful consideration. Now we ask you for your response. Are you willing to consider confessing?”
His opponent had already shown that, like the proverbial Guizhou donkey, he had already gone as far as his mediocre skills would take him. This last effort to seduce Zhang Xikun failed. From the very start, the opportunity to save himself by selling out the others had been held out to him. Zhang Xikun, with what seemed like supernatural powers, laughed in the face of the temptation presented to him by those devils and refused to go down that road.
He calmly responded, “As far for my comrades, 600 million people across China all oppose your tyranny. They are all my comrades. You talk nonsense about how the free world is hell on earth but you yourselves have killed enormous numbers of people in China and made China the real hell on earth. The more people you kill however, the sooner will come the day when your tyranny will be destroyed. As for talking about a reduced sentence, let me tell you bluntly that you don’t have the right to do that. Only the people have the right to pardon your crimes. I will go cheerfully and without shame to my death. Just like the many other Chinese whom you have killed for no reason at all I am a just man. I am sure that the Chinese people will remember me because I stood up to tyranny and was died in the fight against your tyranny. With that I can console myself and console my 600 million compatriots. Whether or not you can accept what I am telling you today, that day will come when you will realized that I told you the truth here today!”
That moving speech was Zhang Xikun’s last declaration. After that last interrogation, a 15 kilogram leg chain was put on Zhang Xikun’s feet. The interrogator made a red check mark on the notice reflecting the fact that their efforts to make him pliable and to trick him had failed.
On August 25, 1975 the authorities announced the verdict of death for this warrior who had never bent from start to finish. They decided that he would be executed the next day on the farm. They asked him what do you want to say in his last twenty-four hours on this earth?
Zhang Xikun gave them a cold laugh. That cold laugh expressed the regrets, the regrets of a man who had not realized his lofty ambitions. Then Zhang Xikun in a loud voice left behind his last words, words that immediately circulated among all the many exiles and workers who had completed their sentences at the Yanyuan Farm.
“Over the past twenty years I have seen with my own eyes criminal policies and a tyrannical system of government has perverted democracy, slaughtered the innocent, lost the support of the people, destroyed effort to develop the country, has moved step-by-step on the road to its own destruction. My deep regret is that I will not live to see the day when you are all destroyed. That day will come and when that day comes it will definitely be a big step forward for China. That day I will be in heaven with [the executed late Qing Dynasty Reformation Movement leader] Tan Ci celebrating with the people sharing in the success of the democratic revolution!” Workers at the small prison passed to people outside their vivid account of the last words of his fighter for democracy.
It was the season of ripening apples that the guards in the apple orchard chose a big, yellow apples for him and made a special cleaning of his clothes just before his execution!
On August 8, 1975 just before dawn at 6 AM were rousted out of their beds. In order to create an intimidating atmosphere, He Qingyun, standing in front of the assembled ranks, announced the rules for today’s announcement of the verdict:
“You are forbidden to bring a stool or paper and pen. At the meeting you must sit properly at your assigned place facing forward. You may not talk or change you position. You may not whisper to one another. You may not during the meeting leave your place to urinate. You may not greet or talk with people from other brigades.”
After He Qingyun finished his announcement, he made a gave a stern greeting. “Today there will be police patrolling through the meeting grounds. Whomsoever breaks the rules will be detained by armed guards. Whatever happens to them then will be their own responsibility.” Before we left for the meeting ground, He Qingyun ordered the leaders of the various groups to search all the participants and to confiscate any paper and pens that they have.
By late August the windy season had already come to Yanyuan as it head in past years. This day, however, was different. The solid overcast made us feel especially gloomy. I saw that sky covered in thick gray clouds and felt very depressed. I wondered whether the sky would rain or cry? Do the gray heavens have feelings?
The entire meeting place was surrounded by two lines of soldiers. When I entered the meeting place, I saw that those soldiers in green army uniforms hidden outside the enclosing wall were in combat readiness. A machine gun was mounted on a 1.5 meter high wall behind the speaker’s platform.
Fierce eyes peered from over the top of the wall under green military caps staring at the unarmed people already coming in to the embankment as if they were to prevent someone from calling for action and the rest of us rushing the speaker’s platform and pillaging the execution grounds.
On two uncovered platforms on either side of the speaker’s platform were several hundred brigade leaders and cadres from all of the various brigades. They knew the prison well and understood that the prisoners were a bunch of slaves so oppressed that they could be easily led by the nose. They, unlike the soldiers, had a casual and satisfied attitude.
The meeting place, which could hold thousands of people, was divided by chalk markings into many squares. The prison slaves from each brigade were lined up in their square where they were to stay obediently and not move to any other square.
Director Yang of the farm headquarters revolutionary committee was in charge of today’s mass meeting. Sitting next to Yang was the director of the Xichang Intermediate People’s Court. Director Yang frequently went to the microphone to complain that the heads of the various brigades were not in the squares where he had ordered them to go. He often ordered them to arrange the ranks properly. He didn’t stop and settle down until 10 AM. All that back and forth relaxed what had been a very intimidating atmosphere and so people started chattering with one another.
Declaring that the meeting had begun, Director Yang made a show of calm and seriousness as he stood up. In his left arm he waved the Little Red Book that he had brought along and read the quotation chosen beforehand that was often used at meeting to pronounce verdicts and announced the rules for the meeting.
No sooner had he stopped talking than two armed soldiers on either side of the speaker’s platform started shouting in a loud voice. Shouts of “kill, kill” came immediately in response from behind the short wall. This made us think back to the age of autocracy when two runner boys would stand on either side of the court and bang on the ground with wooden clubs and yell in chorus “mighty, mighty”.
Just as this gloomy ambiance was pressing down upon us, rain started to beat down intermittently on the meeting ground soon followed by a big downpour.
– 414 –
The black barrels of 20 machine guns threatened those down below from atop the low wall, speaking fire from the barrels when ever there was chatter in the meeting place. On the mortar embankment sat thousands of people in the lotus position. Despite the downpour nobody got up.
Thousands of pairs of eyes stared at the jailers of the various brigades on both sides of the speaker’s platform. Under the heavy downpour, some looked around for a place to run to get out of the rain while others opened an umbrella that they had brought along but were ordered to put them away by the warriors behind the wall. This made those who had gotten up to flee the rain slink back to their original places. The people who closed the umbrellas they had just opened used handkerchiefs and shirts to cover their heads.
I sat below the speaker’s platform sitting upright and straight ahead with my eyes nearly shut. I thought that I might as well take off my cap and let the rain soak me from my bald head on down. Rain ran down my clothes and pants to drip down onto the mortar where my legs were crossed. It seemed as if heaven itself was crying and praying for wrongly condemned souls to be released from purgatory.
The sounds of a disturbance arrived suddenly from the direction of the toilets. Several people were yelling hysterically there as armed soldiers used their clubs to drive the slaves away from the toilets where they had gathered. A pounding sound came as the clubs hit their heads and bodies. Some held their bloodied heads as they dodged the clubs but no one screamed.
The guards from the various brigades on the platforms looked towards the ranks of the convict ranks that they managed. Some came down from the platform. The disorders lasted for over ten minutes. All the people near the toilets were dispersed by force. The rain started to occupy the front lines. Director Yang walked to the speaker’s platform, looked up to the sky towards the slowly dispersing dark clouds and noise came from the microphone once again.
He ordered that two soldiers bring each prisoner forward. Thirty prisoners were dragged forward, each by two soldiers, like a hungry tigers attacking a sheep. All the people brought forward had bloody faces and were covered with bruises.
As was the custom at the time, the people who were being judged were beaten up behind the small wall, tied up hand and foot. Then they were pushed up onto the speaker’s platform. We had become used to seeing this terrible cruel torture. They were trampled upon before being executed. This was done for the slaves to see. The first person in this line of people that we couldn’t bear to look at was Zhang Xikun.
We had been separated for ten months. We saw him then, not only with his face full of blood and all tied up, but that his throat was spasming. He had words he wanted to spit out to the court or to make a call for action to the people down below but he couldn’t speak. He struggled because he couldn’t cry out.
At that moment the entire place became silent. Myself and the other members of The Torch group all press down hard on our chest to contain the fury that we felt. We raised our heads and met Zhang Xikun’s eyes.
Just at that moment, I saw He Qingyun on the left hand side of the speaker’s platform lower his head. He Qingyun was just behind Zhang Xikun. I could see that he looked ashamed of himself. I understood something of his inner feelings since I had heard a rumor that He Qingyun’s wife often nagged him, “The world is full of evil so it is better not to so many evil deeds.” No wonder that he had been so reticent over the past year.
During interrogation Zhang Xikun, calm in the face of death, had deeply moved him and made him realize that his own hands were already drenched in the blood of innocent people. Once he realized that, and took the armor plating off his heart, he knew too that in this turbulent society there was no knowing just who would come into power.
The odd thing was that that day Lin Chegao did not appear on the speaker’s platform. He was the murderer directly responsible for the killing of Zhang Xikun. Today it should be Lin Chegao who was up on the speaker’s platform. He should not be afraid to confront Zhang Xikun!
– 415 –
With Director Yang order, the loudspeaker burst out with the sounds of people shouting themselves hoarse by screaming political slogans. A group of brutal soldiers escorted a group of barely alive men who cannot even find the release of death from their pain. After the depressing sound of gunfire, more yelled political slogans.
(3) They Walked Beside You
I don’t recall getting from the square amidst Director Yang’s yelled political slogans. I don’t know how one after another we walked out of the iron gate of the Seventh Agricultural Brigade. The only thing I remember is on the right-hand side of the road fifty meters from the big iron gate were lined up the corpses of the eight men who had been shot that day. Zhang Xikun’s body was tilted downwards. The iron ball and chain he had worn lay in a pile of soil beside a roadside white birch tree.
This demonstrated that it was not enough to show how the condemned had been beaten to a pulp before they died was not frightening enough. They purposely put these bloody beaten corpses on the roadside so that we would feel that terror again as we walked past them.
In order to remember, I counted the white birch trees along the road from the first one to the seventh one. I could see clearly two streaks of the blood that had dripped off Zhang Xikun’s face. His tightly shut eyes showing us his determination to leave it all behind him. His face showed the deep worries of people who suffered through terrible calamities!! His slightly open mouth showed the regrets and exhortations of one who wanted to talk about the lofty ambitions never realized.
Under the watching gun barrels, I bowed with each step as I walked past. My thoughts filled with him. “Rest in peace! Zhang Xikun, my dear comrade-in-arms. I will always remember what you gave me! As long as I still have breath, I will fight to bury this evil tyrannical system! As long as I still have breath, I will make sure that the world knows your glory! As long as I still have breath, I will keep your spirit alive among us!”