Chapter One: Fate Transformation
Fatalists believe that the fate of a human being is absolutely predestined. Fate is decided by mother nature or God, and it could never ever be changed. But my thinking towards this theory is entirely different. I know a boy, whose fate was transformed in three days after he was born.
One autumn evening many years ago, the rain was drizzling, chilly gusts of autumn wind were blowing. At the entrance space of an old and shabby building in an alley of XiangYan Qiao Road, Hong Kou District, Shanghai, a middle-aged couple were sitting there face-to-face, sighing again and again. The husband was Mr. A-Jin Chen, who was an ordinary coolie (a bottomed labor). A-Jin was short and small, but he was an honest man. In character-wise, he was a little bit meek. Sitting in front of him was his wife who was pregnant, expecting a baby shortly. Unfortunately, they were a very poor couple, and they already had two boys. Facing the reality that the third child was going to come into the world in the near future, the poor couple were very much worried. The reason was obvious: as a basic coolie, A-Jin’s monthly income was very limited. It was already difficult for A-Jin to keep the existing 4-member family alive, how could he manage to feed the third child who would be born soon?
The couple were hopelessly discussing what and how they should do next when a door-knocking sound came. A-Jin stepped to the gate and opened the door. It was Elder-Brother Gong who was Chen Family’s near neighbour.
Elder-Brother Gong’s full name was Yunben Gong. Since he was the fourth kid of seven children in Gong Family (all boys, no girls), people usually called him “Gong Lao Si” Or “Lao Si” (meaning “the Forth Son of Gong Family”). Lao Si was also a coolie, as well as A-Jin’s Sworn Brother (“Sworn Brother” means that in old China, two or more men were so close to each other that they would kneel down in front of a Buddha’s portrait or stature and swear to establish the relationship of “brothers” even though they came from different families with different surnames).
By mentioning Lao Si, I ought to tell you that he was not an ordinary person. Lao Si was a handsome man in medium-height, neither fat nor thin， very witty and capable. When Lao Si was a teenager who lived in the countryside in the north of Jiangsu Province, he learned the Chinese Gong-Fu (martial arts) well. Normally, a group of three or even four strong men together would not be Lao Si’s rivals when fighting against him. Besides, Lao Si was a very generous man with a sense of justice. In order to protect his Sworn Brother A-Jin, Lao Si sometimes had to use his strong fists to conflict with those who bullied or intended to bully A-Jin.
After inviting Lao Si into the room, A-Jin politely asked his Sworn Brother to sit down and offered the visitor a cigarette. A-Jin’s wife got up immediately from her chair and served Lao Si with a cup of tea. Looking at both A-Jin and his wife, Lao Si realized that his Sworn Brother must be confronted with something extremely difficult. He could actually read it from A-Jin’s face. Sipping tea, Lao Si asked A-Jin what had happened. A-Jin trusted his Sworn Brother very much. He told Lao Si how difficult it would be if they should really decide to keep the child and raise him up.
Lao Si gave a deep thought for it and told both A-Jin and his wife that he had a good idea on mind. A-Jin and his wife could not conceal the eagerness to know about it. With emotion, Lao Si said to A-Jin and his wife: “If the born baby is a girl, you should definitely keep her because you have been looking forward to having a baby girl for a long time. Plus, girls are usually very close to their parents when they grow up. But if my sister-in-law gives the birth to a baby boy, I’m most willing to have the boy as my adopted son in order to perpetuate my Gong Family.”
The reason why Lao Si had such a suggestion was due to an incident two years ago. Back then, Lao Si’s wife, Mrs. Gong, did give the birth to a baby boy. But the baby died of meningitis when he was just two years old. As Mrs. Gong suffered from postpartum hemorrhage after the baby was born, she lost the ability to have children again (even though her postpartum trouble was later relieved by the doctor). To have a foster son was a long time dream for both Mr. Yunben Gong and his wife.
After listening to what Lao Si suggested, both A-Jin and his wife lowered their voices for a detailed and serious discussion. And then they came to the conclusion that it was a good proposal put forward by Elder-Brother Gong. On one hand, Chen Family was too poor to feed the child. On the other hand, the two Families of Chen and Gong were so close together that the child would for sure be treated very nicely after adoption.
In that unusually cold autumn evening, the would-be born boy’s fate was thus decided.
As expected, Mrs. Chen did give birth to a baby boy one month later. Coming into the world with a cry, the baby enjoyed three days’ breast-feeding by Mrs. Chen. Three days later, Mrs. Chen sent the child to Gong Family in undescribable pain.
The fate-transformation of this newly-born boy was significant. It changed his whole life dramatically!
It was said that Mrs. Chen was very regretful after giving the boy to Gong Family. She kept crying for a few days after the boy was gone and even had a big quarrel with her husband, Mr. A-Jin Chen. With the time passing by, though, both Mr. and Mrs. Chen found out that Mr. Yunben Gong and his wife had been trying their very best to give their full care to the child. Mrs. Gong was so busy with taking care of and feeding the child that for 20 successive days, she was neglecting her own washing and dressing. In order to earn more money to feed the child, Mr. Yunben Gong voluntarily worked over-time. Discovering that both Mr. and Mrs. Gong were so whole-hearted to the boy, Mrs. Chen felt consoled and relaxed. She cooperated with the couple and went to give the boy breast-feeding from time to time.
Gradually, the two Families reached an agreement: Mrs. Chen, the natural mother of the child, became the child’s foster Mother. She is entitled to frequenting the couple in order to visit her natural son.
Reading up to now, you may think that this is only a fictitious story. It is not. The baby boy was nobody else but me myself!
Chapter Two: Young Adult
Under my foster parents’ loving and meticulous care, I was growing healthily day by day to be a naughty boy.
Back in the early 1950s in China, there were few entertaining facilities available for kids. Boys of my age therefore were forced to find our own ways to kill the time.
We played such games as “Hide-and-Seek”, “Street-Running” and “Tree-Climbing”. For me, two games were particularly interesting. I had so much fun with them. They were “Roosters Fighting” and “Scrap-Iron-Dropping”.
Roosters Fighting follow these rules: two boys must stand straight, facing up to each other at a certain distance. Then each boy should use right hand to grab his left foot to right above kneecap of the right leg. As a result, his left knee would be pointing out. Both parties, thus, could use their pointed left knee as a weapon to strike against each other while supporting their bodies using the right leg hopping around. The one who won the game was the one who struck down the other.
The game of Scrap-Iron-Dropping allowed only two players involved. Those two boys must collect in advance some small pieces of scrap iron either from their homes or on street corners or elsewhere. One of the two boys should start the game by drawing on the ground (mostly the cemented ground) a reasonably-sized square. And then, Boy A would put a small piece of iron in the center of the square. Boy B, the opponent, would stand straight and take a small piece of iron in his right hand and aim at the targeted iron-piece inside the square, making sure that his iron taken by his right hand would accurately strike the targeted one on the ground. Once the above-mentioned actions were done, Boy B could drop his iron naturally and vertically on the targeted iron with the aim of getting it out of the square by gravity. If Boy B successfully did it, he won the game and he could have the right to possess that piece of iron. If not, Boy B should place his scrap iron in the center of the square and let Boy A do the same action of iron-dropping.
The reason why I was fond of playing the above-mentioned two games were partially that Roosters-Fighting could show my bravery. Not to boast of myself, I was indeed one of the best fighters among my fellow players at that time. And Scrap-Iron-Dropping could help me earn a little bit pocket money. If my “dropping gains” were big enough, I could even sell the waste iron to a reclamation depot in our community.
Recalling those times, there was an “insignificant incident” which lingered in my mind throughout the years. It occurred when I was twelve years old.
One sunny afternoon during my Summer vacation, I summoned five or six neighborhood boys, aging from nine to eleven, to a place called “the First Bridge” in the suburb of Shanghai. We went swimming and played some water games in a river there.
Though the river was not far away from our homes, none of us dared to tell the parents where we were going and what we would do before setting off.
It was indeed a wonderful and amazing feeling jumping into the river and starting to swim and frolic at random. Out of the river and putting on our half-wet clothes, we walked slowly back home. As we were very tired, we did not get home until sunset time. Not long after I got home, something really bad happened.
The parents of those boys who were with me in the afternoon, discovered the “secret” of our going to the countryside for water games. They rushed to my home one after another with the purpose of meeting with my parents and complaining about me, the “Culprit”, who was those boys’ Leading Brother. They declared to my parents that my “venture” of leading their kids to a dangerous country river was big wrong-doing, and warned my parents in a serious manner that if any kid were drown in the river, we would be responsible for the tragedy.
Under such circumstances, my parents could do nothing but made humbly and sincerely apologies to those “prosecutors” while promising to them that the “trouble-maker” would be severely punished.
After seeing off the “prosecutors”, my father was so furious that he couldn’t help himself any longer. He gave me a good spanking. So be that the end of water-frolicking. But I quickly decided to engage myself in another passion: high-jumping, which led to more incidents in my life.
I got passionate about high-jumping because I believed that with my height, it was promising for me to become an “outstanding high-jumper”.
In the early years of 1950s, China was still quite poor. Public sports facilities were rarely available. To find a suitable place around our community to practice my high-jump was almost impossible. But I was such a “smart young adult” that I easily found a solution to that: a narrow alley adjacent to my home. As per my eye measurement, the width of this alley was less than three meters apart. I managed to obtain a tiny and thin but durable bamboo pole, chopped off a few inches on one end of the pole so that the amended pole could well fit the alley width. I inserted one end of the pole into a hole in one alley wall, and placed another pole-end to a hole of the opposite wall.
When the pole was firmly fixed in both holes between the two alley walls, I began the warm-up exercises before embarking on the actual jumping. When ready, I walked to a certain spot which was about four meters away from the pole. Then, pumped up with enough self-confidence that I would easily jump over the height, I “gracefully” dashed towards the fixed bamboo pole…
Unfortunately, I failed. By trying to jump over the fixed pole, I fell down to the gravel ground and hit myself heavily.
I did not realize that there was a big cut on my forehead. By the time my Mom sent me to the community hospital for the first-aid, the face of the proud “sportsman” was bleeding terribly. Even today, one can still see the scar indistinctly if looking carefully.
From time to time in Winter, my Mother would take me to visit my Aunt, whose home was not far away. If the weather was extremely chilly, say after snowing, I would invite Yusheng, the grand daughter of my Aunty, to go out to have fun in the cold with me. What we loved to do together was to use a long and thin bamboo pole to knock the small icicle from the eaves of our next neighbor’ house. When the icicle was loosened, ready to be knocked off, Yusheng would be always most happy to pull her cotton-padded overcoat out in order to catch and hold the icicle. Once having collected enough of it, we would share the gains, respectively putting the icicle into our mouth, tasting the icy stuff as if they were delicious ice bonbons.
As time went by, I grew from a pupil to be a middle-school student. Passion for kids’ games took a turn and left me. Instead, I started to find big pleasure in reading Chinese classic literature, especially those mythical novels.
There happened to be four boys in our class, who shared the interest with me. This “common language” strengthened our friendship and made the five of us into intimate friends. We even decided to become the so-called “Sworn Brothers”. One day, I invited the four boys to my home. As my Mother believed in Buddhism, the Five of us knelt down piously in front of a portrait of Buddha Guanying (the Goddess of Mercy), going through the ceremony of becoming Sworn Brothers by swearing into “brotherly relationship”.
A Chinese saying goes like this: “Things of a kind come together, people of a mind fall into the same group”. None of us five brothers was a hard-working student who would concentrate on his classroom learning. What we really liked to do was to learn the Chinese “Gongfu” (martial arts) well. The reason was simple: all of us five were crazy about those heroic figures who appeared in the Chinese classical or mythical novels.
In those times, people did believe that the true Chinese Gongfu Masters could only be found in the deep forests of some well-known mountains, like Mount Emei in particular. Mount Emei is situated in Sichuan Province inChina. It is as high as 3000 meters.
In order to go to Mount Emei to learn the true Chinese Gongfu, we five brothers reached an agreement that we would play truant, leaving Shanghai for Mount Emeil as soon as possible. A few days later, we decided to take the train to Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province. From there we would get to Mount Emeil quickly. We also decided that we must do some preparation work, such as having enough money, taking some solid food and getting some warm clothes. It was planned that we would gather together at my alley’s entrance on the early morning of the coming Saturday. Thus, all our preparation work must be done on or before Friday night.
The plan seemed to be carried out perfectly! But nothing could be perfect!
It sounded like a joke but exactly on that Friday night, one of the us was caught red-handed by his Mother when he stole the money from his home. After questioning her son and coming to know about the secret, the hot-headed Mother immediately visited the other four families. One after another (at that time, no home had the telephone facility), she told the parents of the other 4 brothers about the bold plan.
As a result, our “fleeing plan” went up in smoke. What’s even worse was all Five Brothers were badly beaten up at home.
Being indulged in game-playing, naughty venturing and pleasure-seeking during my early youth, I sometimes felt a bit confused about things happening around me. I couldn’t understand why the adults around me would sometimes embark on strange or unreasonable matters.
Starting in the year of 1958, for example, Chinese government began to implement a so-called “Big-Leap-Forward ” policy. One important thing related to the implementation was to mobilize the citizens all over the country to try as hard as possible to produce steel and iron. The main argument for the policy at that time was, we should make a lot of steel and iron to industrialize China so that it could be powerful enough to surpass or catch up with those major capitalist countries in the Western World.
At that time, if you walked out, you could see an interesting phenomenon. Everywhere, in the streets or on the residential buildings, were such political slogans as “Striving to produce steel and iron in order to catch up with the USA and surpass the UK”, or “ Surpassing the UK in 15 years, and catching up with the USA in 20 years”.
For the sake of making more steel and iron to support the country’s policy, the Chinese people across the whole country showed unusual enthusiasm. Almost every household in my community did the utmost to search for some scrap iron at home. If no waste iron or steel could be found any more, people would contribute some of their daily-using iron-steel-made tools or utensils such as knives, pots or even hammers to the community authority. The iron-steel-made stuff would be regarded as the raw material for steel-making, being sent to a refractory-brick-made furnace for “steel-making”.
One such steel-making furnace was just located on the roadside near the entrance of my alley. I saw with my own eyes the whole process of how some “activists” in my neighborhood dismantled and crashed the huge and heavy iron door into pieces, sending the iron pieces to the furnace for steel-making,
But even if the Chinese people worked so selflessly and passionately for the country’s “Steel-Making-Project”, the result was not ideal, because none of the steel or iron billets or products coming out of those backward furnaces was qualified. In other words, they were themselves scrap iron.
The other national movement, called the “Campaign of Wiping out the Four Pests”, confused me, too. In the year of 1956, the Chinese Committee of Patriotic Health Movement declared that the four creatures of Mouse, Fly, Mosquito and Sparrow were pests and must be killed. It was understandable that mice, flies and mosquitoes were malicious because they could transmit diseases to the human bodies. But why treating sparrows, those poor little birds, as pest or bad creature, too? Why must they also be facing the death penalty? I couldn’t help wondering.
On the morning of a summer day, I followed a huge group of people, like other kids, to see how the adults wiped out sparrows.
They waved big red flags, beat gongs and drums while shouting loudly to the sparrows that were resting in trees, on house eaves or catching worms on the grassland. Overwhelmed by the noises, those poor birds were so scared and frightened that they could think of nothing more than flying into the air, trying to escape. But people kept on waving the red flags, beating the gongs and drums while shrieking loudly for hours. Thus, many tired-out sparrows would simply fall down onto the ground, half dead.
Later, the Patriotic Health Movement Committee changed the policy by releasing a statement, saying that “even though sparrows eat crops and grains, harming people’s interest, those birds also catch and eat bad worms. The account of sparrows’ merits and demerits, so to speak, was square.” After a while, a new list of “the Four Pests” came out. They were Mouse, Fly, Mosquito and Roach.
The incidents of those years never left me, accompanying me and witnessing my growth. I was sometimes happy and sometimes confused, an unforgettable teenage time, indeed!
Chapter Three: Destiny’s Crossroads
As a young student, I needed financial support badly. But my family was not rich. Besides, my father was such a generous man that he was always ready to give the money away to the needy people, even if the sum was set aside for our family’s necessary daily spending, He would give the money to those “poor village folks” who came to Shanghai, aiming only at asking my father for financial aid. As a consequence, we experienced very difficult days.
Despite all the hardship, my parents, who were themselves illiterate, insisted on supporting me going to school. They understood that only education could enable me to become a useful person in future. They believe, too, that after graduation, I would get a decent job. Thus, our family living standard would also be greatly improved. The reason why I could actually finish both my elementary and high-school education was all due to my parents’ pinching and saving, to tell the truth.
During my school years, something unusual happened when I was still a junior. The incident almost changed the course of my destiny.
One day in the afternoon, a middle-aged man came to my house. My father introduced that gentleman to me, saying that he was a country doctor in our home village. The doctor came to Shanghai to buy several kinds of traditional Chinese medicine which could not be purchased in rural areas. My Father continued to tell me that the doctor was very good at both professional experience and moral integrity. The reason why he chose to stay at my home was yet very obvious: he wanted to save money on both boarding and lodging.
After a few days of staying with us, the doctor seemed to show a lot of interest in me. Finally, he made a suggestion to my father that I should quit my school and follow him to our hometown to be his apprentice. He promised to my father that after a few years of training in medical skills with him, I would become a promising country doctor who could earn a decent life for himself and his family. Upon hearing the suggestion of the doctor, my father’s heart went pit-a-pat. To have a decent life for the family was his long-time burning desire. But he knew that before making a decision, he must get my mother’s consent. He pulled my mother aside and started to discuss this matter with her. To his surprise, my mother did not agree. She did not feel comfortable on letting me, still a teenage boy, go and become a doctor’s apprentice, settling down in the countryside.
Since neither of them could convince the other, my parents decided to visit Teacher Yu, who was my class advisor.
In those days, people had high respect for teachers because they were all well-educated, noble and wise. After listening to my father and mother, Teacher Yu gave them a piece of advice for them to see things on the long run. Teacher Yu told them that even though I was somewhat naughty and not making enough efforts for studying, I had great potentials in Chinese literature. It would be a great pity if I quit school immediately and go to the countryside for the sake of learning the traditional Chinese medicine.
Doubtlessly, my father was convinced by Teacher Yu and agreed to let me continue my schooling. Several months later, I smoothly completed my junior school and was promoted as a senior school student.
Two years had elapsed quickly since and graduation was only one year away. At that critical moment, again something unexpected happened. My destiny was once again caught at a crossroads.
It was a Sunday afternoon. My Father was at home enjoying his day-off. An old gentleman named Bocheng Liu, our next door neighbor, unexpectedly came to our house. My father and mother were very surprised and also excited to see Mr. Liu visiting them in person. Mr. Liu was a famous figure in and beyond our community. He was not only a knowledgeable man who graduated from a good university in Shanghai, but also a well-known story-teller in Shanghai.
In old China, there were two major styles of story-telling. One was called “Northern Style”, with its artists actively displaying their story-telling talents in North China, Beijing and Northeast China in particular, using standard Mandarin as their language. The other one was called “Southern Style”, with its story-tellers performing mostly in tea-houses in Shanghai and Jiangsu Province. Their language was a dialect from Yangzhou, a historical cultural city in Jiangsu Province. Mr. Liu was a veteran “Southern Style” artist, telling stories in the funny Yangzhou dialect. He could tell a lot of stories, and one of his masterpieces was “Heroes in Early Ming Dynasty” (Ming dynasty: 1368-1644). He could tell the story so vividly and attractivly that the teahouse he was working at was always packed with audience at his presence.
Our community residents all knew that Mr. Liu was very polite and gentle. He would send greetings to his neighbors who were about to pass by, but he rarely visited any family around. It was his first visit to our house. Naturally, my parents showed their great respect by politely inviting him to be seated, and offered him with a cigarette and a cup of tea.
After exchanging greetings, Mr. Liu opened his mouth and said to my parents that the other day, he occasionally noticed a pair of Spring Festival couplets on the door of Blind Zhang’s house. Blind Zhang, with the family name Zhang, got this nickname from his uneducated but well-meant neighbors. Mr. Liu was very impressed by the antithetical couplets because “it was written well”. Out of curiosity, Mr. Liu asked Blind Zhang who wrote this pair of couplets for him. Zhang told Liu that it was done by the “little guy of the Gong family”. To try to find out if what Blind Zhang said was true, Mr. Liu decided to visit my home.
Learning the purpose of Liu’s visit, my father immediately asked me to come to meet the guest.
It WAS my writing. Our neighbor Blind Zhang was a paper-box-pasting worker at a local street factory. Even though he was blind, he hoped to have a pair of Chinese Spring Festival couplets be hung on his house door. “By doing this, it would create some festival happiness atmosphere”, he said to me.
As is well-known, according to the Chinese tradition, almost every household would like to hang up antithetical couplets on the house doors on the eve of the Spring Festival. This tradition started in the beginning of Ming Dynasty, about 650 years ago. Blind Zhang asked me to do this for him by adding up: “It could also give my neighbors a chance to share the good luck with me”. The older generation believed that both high spirit and good luck would be brought by the Spring Festival couplets. The Chinese traditional Spring Festival couplets is usually written by a writing brush soaked with black ink on a piece of large-sized red paper. The content is usually to express luck and happiness.
As per his request, I wrote the following antithetical couplets for Blind Zhang:
“Closing the door and going to work with walking stick, what a wonderful morning;
Having the wine and coming back home under moonlight, what a romantic night!”
The horizontal scroll for the antithetical couplets was “Bittersweet”.
I did not expect that the antithetical couplets I presented could draw Mr. Liu’s attention. In my eyes, Mr. Liu was a great scholar at that time who could hardly notice the writing of a little school boy’s.
Upon hearing the truth that it was me who wrote the couplets, Mr. Liu nodded his head and smiled. He began a long chat on the themes of some Chinese classical and mythical novels with me, which turned out to be an incredible joy for me…
Thank goodness to my deep interest and knowledge, we had a great conversation. I was a person who was obsessed with reading Chinese classical and mythical novels. With such famous novels as “Journey to the West” (the story on how the Monkey King helped Master Monk Xuangzang get the scripture from the Western Heaven in Tang Dynasty, about 1400 years ago), “Water Margins” (on how 105 heroes and 3 heroines fought against the suppressing Song Dynasty, about 1000 years ago), “the Romance of Three Kingdoms” (on how the warlords of the three kingdoms Wei, Wu and Shu fought against each other, about 1800 years ago), “the Story of Chinese Gods” (novel on how the related generals and ministers battled hard and finally became Gods, based on myths approximately back to the years between 1056 to 1046 BC) and so on and so forth. Mr. Liu was very surprised at and extremely pleased about my knowledge towards those novels. After our long chatting, he was determined to take me as his student who could take up his mantle of story-telling in the future. It was supposed to be a big honor handpicked by a master.
Mr. Liu said to my parents: “I have been in the story-telling business for many years. Now I am a well-known story-telling artist, I’m also getting older and older. I really hope to find a suitable apprentice to pass on my story-telling skills. I have not yet found anyone qualified until today. I have a strong feeling that your son has great potentials to be trained as an excellent story-teller. Please let your son be my student. With me, he will enjoy a bright future! But the precondition of making this happen is that your son has to quit his schooling at once.”
At that time, China had just experienced the most difficult time of three-year-long “Natural Disasters”. People’s life was still very poor. The monthly income of my father could barely maintain our family’s daily expenses. In comparison, what Mr. Liu earned with just one day’s story-telling was equivalent to my father’s weekly salary. The reality of “easy money-making for artists” was for sure very attractive to my parents. And my mother did not say no this time. As there was no different opinion between my dad and mom, I was about to quit school and become Mr. Liu’s student.
Yet just at that critical moment, Teacher Ye, my class advisor, came to my home for a routine visit. After being informed of the plan of my quitting school for the sake of following a story-teller as his apprentice, Teacher Ye was somewhat shocked. But controlling his moods and speaking in a friendly tone, he blamed my parents for being short-sighted.
Another course-changing plan was thus suspended. Using a teacher’s “authoritative persuasion”, Teacher Ye succeeded in convincing my parents to give up their idea. My teacher pulled me back again from a crossroads. One year later, I graduated from my senior high-school, passed my university entrance exam and became a university student.
Chapter Four: University Life
When I was eighteen years old, I passed the entrance exam and became a university student.
On the eve of leaving from Shanghai for Beijing to start my university life, a certain Mr. Chuande Chen suddenly came to see me. Claiming to be my natural elder brother, he told me that I was his natural younger brother and my real biological sir name should be Chen, not Gong. He repeatedly said to me that my natural father, Mr. A-Jin Chen, passed away a few years ago while my natural mother had always loved me and kept me in her heart.
As a matter of fact, I began to doubt about my birth truth when I became a senior high school student. At that time, I had a feeling that I might not be a natural son of the Gong Family because the age difference between my parents and me seemed to be too big (when I was born, my foster mother was already 44 years old). But even so, I was still caught off guard and totally shocked at the words of my natural brother. After my elder brother bid good-bye to me, I could not calm down for a very long time. Yet, my mind was clear: I had to accept the reality!
Telling myself that I ought to follow the Chinese saying that “the favor of a drop of water should be repaid with the gratitude of a fountain of water”, I decided to continue my relationship with my foster parents and treat them nicely. I must admit that it was my foster parents who had been providing me with the best food and clothes they could find, and it was they who were raising me up. Deep in my heart, Mr. and Mrs. Gong were my real parents. I was very thankful to them because they changed my fate completely. If I were still living in the Chen Family, I imagined, I would probably have become an ordinary worker, just like my two natural brothers.
Coming to this conclusion, I was determined to do my best in the future to pay my foster parents back. I told myself that after my graduation from the university, I would try to get a decent job and give my foster parents the best possible life. In addition, I would also like to take care of my natural mother and two brothers within my capability.
I had never told my foster parents about the fact that I had doubt about my identity or later the realization of the fact. I don’t want to hurt their feelings. After all, my foster parents were the dearest ones to me in this world.
One hot and humid summer afternoon, I, a newly recruited university student, was sitting in a train ready to leave Shanghai for Beijing soon. I was trying to continue a conversation through coach windows with my father who came to the railroad station to see me off. The reality told me that I would definitely part with my foster parents, who had been living with me for eighteen years.
A few minutes later, a whistle blew and the train began to move. I tried to lean out the coach window to signal to my father for a safe trip back home. I was still waving to him when I saw him suddenly began to run desperately to catch up with the fast-moving train, no, to catch up with the fast-moving me… He was waving his two hands in the air and crying out loud. At that very moment, tears welled up in my eyes. In my memory, my father was a tough guy who never shed tears.
As soon as the train left the railroad station, I suddenly thought that my mother, who chose to stay at home in order not to lose her control when bidding farewell to me at the railroad station, must be feeling very sad and even weeping painfully. She could not accept the fact that her son, who had been under her care and love for so many years, had really left home for a place far away. With complicated feelings beyond the words, I sat in silence in the train for hours. When calming down, I began to tell myself again that I must study hard in the university and try to be an outstanding and promising student. Only by so doing could I get a better job after my graduation, making enough money to support my family.
After a long train ride of over 30 hours, I finally got to my destination: Beijing, the capital city of China. There, an unusual age started.
It might sound strange to you but in the 1960s, Shanghai was already considered a well-developed and industrialized municipal city in China. Shanghainese had then already a sense of pride. In their eyes, they as “smart” Shanghainese were superior to the “ordinary” people living in other parts of China. They also assumed that Shanghai where they lived in was the best in the nation. Those residents who were very poor and had to shelter in the shanty town also showed tremendous respect towards Shanghai. Shanghainese typically would not leave Shanghai even if they were offered a good opportunity of going somewhere else for a much better life. They were willing to “enjoy” very simple meals every day as long as they could stay in Shanghai.
Those who were considered poor in Shanghai would be offered “Paofan” for breakfast (Paofan is kind of very simple, butbroadly loved food in Shanghai, the recipe being as follows: pour enough boiling water into the steamed rice already leftcold to warm it up. Leaving the water in it, one consumes it as rice soup. When I was living in Shanghai, Paofan was also my favorite food to enjoy at breakfast). The side dishes they could afford to get were only some pickled radish. The houses they lived in were shabby and old. And the temperature inside was extreme, cold in winter and hot in summer. So long as they could continue to live in their “dream city” of Shanghai, they had no complains.
Before I left Shanghai and started my new life in Beijing, I was also a typical Shanghai resident who regarded the city as China’s best. But with time passing by, I bagan to know the city of Beijing better and better. After living in Beijing for a fairly long period, I realized that my “Shanghai Fever” cooled down gradually until gone completely. Beijing, the capital city of China, was displaying a brand new world to me. Even today, after so many decades, Beijing is still a city that I love so much!
If I did not have the opportunity to come to and live in Beijing, it would be impossible for me to know how great and magnificent this ancient city was! Just by looking at the resplendent Forbidden City and the majestic Great Wall, you would get an incredible sense of pride. I was also utterly astonished by the world’s largest square, Tiananmen Square and the biggest palace, Summer Palace. Recalling the time when I was in Shanghai, I was so proud of the People’s Square and the Yuyuan Garden. To compare those two “fabulous” Shanghai scenic spots to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and Summer Palace, you would easily find out that the former was ridiculously tiny. It was only after I settled down in Beijing that I realized how vivid a Chinese Proverb is: a frog underneath the well. When I was in Shanghai, I could be called such a frog, knowing nothing about the outside world.
As time went on, I came to know the local people in Beijing better and better. People who lived respectively in Beijing and Shanghai were like from two different worlds.
I found that Beijingnese viewed the world from a new and unique perspective. In Beijing, no matter who they were, whether they were prominent officials, eminent personalities or the peck and hamper people who earned their living with a poor monthly income, almost everyone showed enthusiasm on current issues, both domestic and international. I was deeply impressed by their philosophy of “the rise or fall of the nation is the concern of every citizen”.
I still remember that when I lived in Shanghai, the local people only concerned about their daily life matters, such as “buying some new clothes and shoes for my wife and kids after getting the monthly pay”, or “how to arrange a better and cozier life after a remarkable money saving”.
After a few months’ stay in Beijing, I discovered that my perspective of looking at the world and the nation had beenchanged and broadened, getting me more and more matured.
Beijing’s humanistic and cultural environment delighted me a lot. At leasure time, I loved to visit the place called “Liulichang”, where numerous antiques and paintings could be found or purchased. I also loved to make casual tours to such places as “Wangfujing” and “Tianqiao”. There I could enjoy looking at all kinds of commercial products, always surrounded by big crowds of visitors.
But one thing is for sure: the biggest attraction of Beijing for me was the local people’s living traditions as well as their music-like dialect. How deep Beijing’s cultural heritage was!
As the only son of my parents’, I was accustomed to a life with everything ready for me. But this privilege no longer existed after I went to Beijing, leading an independent life. At the university, there was no offering of direct parental assistance. Everything must be handled by myself.
I lived in a dormitory room with 8 bunk beds (upper and lower). Eight classmates shared and squeezed together in this small room space. Besides, the university had a series of school rules and regulations, which must be followed strictly. As a result, I had to change the bad habit of sleeping late at night and getting up late in the morning. But the most unbearable thing to me was I could not have sufficient rice to eat for my daily meals. Beijing being a northern city, the locals are more used to eating steamed bread, dumplings or noodles. These are mostly made from wheat flour.
On Saturdays or Sundays, students like me from other cities or other provinces would have to suffer from a certain loneliness because they did not have homes in Beijing, neither relatives nor friends around. When all my classmates from Beijing went back home over the weekend, I felt somehow lonely, facing the empty and quiet school complex and the dormitory rooms.
But all these seemingly difficult or “intolerant” sentiments were gone completely once I got used to the surroundings. A very strong belief in my heart supported me: I came from a poor family and the only way for me to change my and my family’s living condition was to study hard. No bright future would be waiting for me unless I graduate from the university with distinctions. Good job opportunities would be in line for me if I graduated decently. With this belief, I was very motivated at studying and became a hard-working student.
It might be difficult to imagine but I really used up almost all my spare time for learning. The Small Pine Forest in my university complex was an ideal place for my after-school English reciting. More than anything else, I sometimes spoke English loudly in my dreams. When my roommates told me about this, even I myself was surprised at it. The reason for speaking English in dreams sounded like in accordance with a Chinese saying: What you think about during the day, is what you will dream of at night.
I was indeed very eager to learn English well. I also tried to learn all other subjects well. In order to reach this goal, I worked really hard at that time. English being a beloved subject, however, I dedicated almost all my spare time to English reading and speaking.
Hard work paid off finally. I became one of the best students in my class since my academic performance was excellent.
It was true that my life in university was simple and even hard because my family was not riche enough to offer me any decent financial support. As a matter of fact, my monthly food supply plus a very limited amount of pocket money were provided by the University. On the other hand, my life on campus was unusually bright and interesting. The university’s collective life-style had brought me tremendous warmth and joviality.
When I was a young adult, China had just begun to suffer from its devastating nationwide Three-Year Natural Disasters. During that period of time, food, vegetable and meat were in serious shortage. I felt constantly hungry, not having enough food to eat. My health was thus being jeopardized. I was 18 years old, a rather tall man with 1.75 meters in height. But my weight was only 55 kilograms. I was so thin that I looked like a “hemp stalk”.
But after I entered the university, I could enjoy three normal meals per day. Meals at the school canteen could not be described as wonderful. But at least the meals could curb my hunger. Enough nutritious food and good living condition helped me a lot. In two years time, I gained a lot of weight and became a quite strong young man.
Also, good relationship with my classmates cheered me up, making me feel comfortable and happy, especially over the weekends. The eight male classmates in my dormitory room were very close together. None of us had a home in Beijing. We all came from other cities or provinces. On Saturdays and Sundays when the local classmates went back home, we would find some ways to kill time. The favorite way was to hold parties on Saturday evenings. Even though we were all poor students who did not have money, we were still able to bring in a party by contributing only ten cent each (at that time, ten cents RMB could buy half a kilo corn flour).
Collecting the total amount of eighty cents (10 cents each times 8), our dormitory could prepare a Saturday Evening Party. One of our roommates would go to the school retail shop to buy several preserved eggs. Another would go to the school canteen kitchen to “steal” some soy sauce and vinegar. When the eggs and the sauces were ready, one of our roommates would use a sharp knife to slice the eggs into pieces. The sliced eggs would be put into one big plate borrowed from our school canteen. Finally, soy sauce and vinegar would be added and mixed with the sliced eggs. This was our wonderful party food!
With our party food ready, we eight people would sit in a ring and start to enjoy the sliced preserved eggs. In order to drag the party a little bit longer, we tasted the eggs carefully and slowly. Such moments became unforgettable memory for me. We drank tea as “liquor” to the eggs, talking and laughing loudly and happily while eating.
How simple food could bring joy beyond measure in those days! With it, all our sadness and loneliness were gone!
Gradually, our Saturday evening’s “Preserved Egg Party” activity became well-known. Almost all students in other dormitory rooms began to follow the pattern, also initiating such “Preserved Egg Party” from time to time. This “Party Tradition” did not stop until the Cultural Revolution began in 1966.
I guess I was never a Hindu ascetic. Whenever there was a chance to visit beautiful places or enjoy good food, I would be more than happy to try to grab the opportunity. I still remember one Sunday morning. On that day, my classmate Mr. Y.C. Ma invited our class monitor Mr. W.Y. Fu to a Beijing Zoo tour. As I was quite close to Monitor Fu, Fu suggested to Ma that I should also be invited. Ma happily agreed. Thus, three of us went to Beijing Zoo by bus. That was my first visit of Beijing Zoo, which housed a big variety of wild animals.
The exciting visit to this famous Zoo widened my vision indeed! We felt that the tour should be continued. So we decided to continue our tour after a brief discussion by paying a visit to the Summer Palace, the world’s largest park. We had a lot of fun there. To tell the truth, that was my most satisfying trip ever since I came to Beijing.
Not to be forgotten was also a restaurant visit. Mr.Y.C. Ma invited Monitor Fu and me to a dinner at a restaurant. Ma was a rich student because of his family background. His father was a county magistrate. In our students’ eyes, a county magistrate was by all means a high-ranking government official.
Before we walked into the restaurant, Mr. Ma pulled out one big note of Five Yuan RMB from his pocket and spoke proudly: ”This Five Yuan Note should be more than enough for us three brothers to have a good meal today!”
I was really impressed by Mr. Ma’s generosity. Five Yuan! Really big money! An ordinary family could use this money to buy about 16 kilograms of wheat flour at that time. And 16 kilograms flour was more than enough for the monthly consumption of a strong adult.
Sitting down at a table in the restaurant, Mr. Ma ordered two dishes, one soup and three bowls of cold beer. The dishes were diced chicken with green pepper (0.16 Yuan), fried pork meat slices with Beijing soya bean sauce (0.16 Yuan), tomato and egg soup (0.10 Yuan), three bowls of rice (0.15 Yuan) and three big bowls of cold beer (0.30 Yuan). Mr. Ma spent all together 0.87 Yuan, or 87 Cents, less than one Yuan! But we all ate to our full satisfaction!
To Mr. Ma, the total consumption of 0.87 Yuan might not be a big deal because he had enough pocket money. But to me, it was really a huge amount of money. My fixed monthly pocket money at University was only One Yuan. And this One Yuan must cover my basic consumption of soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, notebooks and even the stamps purchased for mailing letters to my parents.
Chapter Five: Cultural Revolution
One day in the early Summer of 1966 came as unusual and significant to me. From that day on, the Capital City of Beijing began to fall into its long nightmare. No one could anticipate that a political movement was to arrive in Beijing and elsewhere throughout China that led to total cultural chaos and disaster.
On that morning, people living in Beijing learned a piece of surprising news from the National Radio Program: a teacher named Yuanzi Nie at Beijing University, posted a big-character poster, together with several other teachers, on the wall inside the University’s dining hall. The poster criticized the University Principal by name and declared that the Principal must be brought down. The poster also pointed out that bad elements had immerged from inside the Chinese Communist Party. Facing such situations, a great cultural revolution should be done to pull out those people in power within the Party who were taking the capitalist road. These “capitalist roaders” should all be dismissed from their positions.
That poster was no less than a powerful thunderclap that shook the whole Beijing City. My classmates and I were also totally shocked.
But the even more surprising news came upon us a few days later. Chairman Mao (Zedong), the supreme leader of the Chinese Communist Party, also wrote a big-character poster entitled “Bombard the Headquarter”.
In his poster, Chairman Mao stated that he would give his full support to Teacher Nie’s act and highly praised what Teacher Nie and her colleagues did as “a revolutionary action”. In the same poster, Chairman Mao guided the whole nation to act against National Chairman Liu (Shaoqi) and his ideology. The reason why Chairman Mao did this was clear: to reduce the power of Liu who was next to Chairman Mao on the power ladder.
To quote a saying in China, Chairman Mao’s poster was just like “a huge stone stirring up a thousand waves”. Not long after that, a disastrous, unprecedented and nation-wide Great Cultural Revolution started! No one believed at the beginning that this crazy and violent “Cultural Revolution” could develop so rapidly and vehemently that all primary, middle and college students in China stopped their studies. Those high school or college students who came from “good family backgrounds” like workers, peasants, soldiers and revolutionary cadres, joined a “revolutionary organization” called “the Red Guards”.
In addition, some middle school students, who came from military families, set up a new organization called “the United Action Fighting Team”. Members of this Fighting Team would be wearing the army uniforms and caps without military collar badges on the uniforms or military stars on their caps. They wore military belts too. It was said that those uniforms and caps were given to them by their parents, most of them high-ranking military officers. Fully-equipped, they walked along the streets or alleys in valiant mood. Whenever a pedestrian appeared, they would come forth immediately to stop him/her and asked for the family background. If the pedestrian said that he or she came from a “good family” like workers, farmers and soldiers, he or she would be allowed to pass by without problems. If the pedestrian told the truth by saying that he or she came from a “bad family” like landlords, rich peasants, or so-called “counter-revolutionaries”, “bad elements” or “rightists”, he or she would be definitely at least “educated” or scolded. If any pedestrian dared to express the slightest unwillingness or unhappiness while being questioned, a good beat would be waiting for him or her. In those occasions, military belts came to be useful.
Red Guards took the family background as the most important factor for judging whether a person was good or bad. They firmly believed that “If the father was a hero, the son would be a sincere man; if the father was a counter-revolutionary, his son must be a bastard”.
At that time, Red Guards were popular and loud, wandering all over the City of Beijing from morning till night. Not only did they destroy whatever antiques they could find, but also they made serious damages to Beijing’s scenic spots and historical sites. A lot of precious old paintings or calligraphy works were burned by them, being called “old and feudalist remains”. Historical sites among the victims, too. “Beating, Smashing and Looting” were the “policy” of those young and fearless Red Guards Fighters.
That was indeed a time of madness! Seemingly, people lost their conscience and the laws were thrown aside. Under the cover of the “Revolution” flag, some Red Guards obtained good excuses to do whatever evil things they wished to do. Their act could be so outrageous and display cruelty beyond description.
I personally experienced an incident that stayed in my memory as a shock. It happened at my college on an early autumn evening in the year of 1966.
That evening, I finished my supper at the dining hall and as usual, was walking afterwards back to my dormitory room when I encountered a huge amount of people, both students and teachers, striding all forward like a torrent toward one direction.
Out of curiosity, I followed the crowd and entered a very big classroom. Once inside, I was totally shocked by the horrible sight in front of me: an almost naked young man about 17 or 18 years old wearing only briefs! He was surrounded by several Red Guards who were my schoolmates of lower grades. The Red Guards were commanding in very tough manners the young man to climb from the two-stacked chairs to the top layer of the three-stacked desks. The young man without complaint complied with the order, climbing with difficulty to the top. And then, as ordered, he squatted on the top desk and buried his head in the hands. At that very moment, two of the Red Guards suddenly kicked the stacked desks to the collapse, causing the young man to fall inevitably heavily to the cement ground. I saw blood coming out of his head. But that was far away from ending! Those Red Guards forced him to put all three desks back to their original position, and to climb up to the top desk again! And then they kicked the desks ferociously again. Consequently, the young man fell down again and again with more bleeding until he finally lost his consciousness…
Numerous people watched the cruel scene with its brutality. No help offered to the victim. To my surprise, a few young spectacles even applauded and praised the Red Guards for their “correct revolutionary actions”. Most of people around, including me myself, did nothing more than keeping silent. The “justified” reason for it was that the young man was regarded as an “evil hooligan”.
By asking a teacher standing beside me, I came to the knowledge that this young man was an ordinary peasant living in a village close to our college. His adolescent impulse led him to secretly sneak into our university’s entrance gate that evening and to enter the student’s dormitory. There he tried to reach the second floor where girl students resided. He pushed open an unlocked room quietly, seeing a girl in the room who had just taken off most of her clothes for a wash.
She was careless by not locking the door. But she might have thought that rooms on that floor were only for girls. No male students or strangers would come to visit anyway at that time. The moment the young man stretched his head and peeked into the room, he was discovered. The girl was so scared that she began to scream loudly. The terrified young man tried to escape but failed in the girl’s shouting. Several boy students living on the first floor responded by running to the second floor to find out what had happened. They caught the young man half way easily because the dormitory building had only one stairway.
Those boy students were revolutionized Red Guards. They decided to give this young man a severe punishment. They defined the peeping into the girl’s room as a crime of “aborted raping”.
The Great Cultural Revolution officially started in June of 1966. Immedietely after that, the country’s public security or judicial organizations were no longer working normally. “Revolutionary students” as well as the Red Guards could do anything at random. What was even worse was that during the Great Cultural Revolution period, “hooligans” were treated as a kind of bad elements who were on the list of China’s “Five Enemies” (landlords, rich peasants, counter-revolutionaries, bad elements and rightists).
In front of the young man as a “bad element” who tried to “molest a girl”, few dared to stand up to protect him. It would only bring him/her troubles, be defined as the concealer or partner of the “bad element”.
I had no idea whether this young man was disabled or even died of torture. But the young man’s miserable image of lying there on the ground unconscious never escaped my memory.
With the support of China’s supreme leader Chairman Mao, the Great Cultural Revolution was gaining momentum. Now the whole nation got involved. It was difficult to imagine that all Chinese, regardless of man or woman, old and young, were dedicating their great enthusiasm towards this “great political movement”.
One most popular thing for the Chinese people to do at that time was to “express their loyalty” to the Great Leader Chairman Mao. Every morning, the Chinese people would give Chairman Mao a “morning report”. The way of doing so was to stand up in front of Chairman Mao’s portrait while holding the “little red book” in hands. The little red book contained quotations from Chairman Mao’s works. Deep loving words toward Chairman Mao would be uttered to his portrait. Every evening, the same ritual would be repeated before going to sleep.
Back then, when you tried to call your friends or relatives by phone, you must let the operator help you connect the line (At that time, no family had private telephone yet). The funny thing is that during the Cultural Revolution, you must recite one of Chairman Mao’s Quotations first, and then the operator would answer you by mentioning another Mao’s Quotation. Only by doing so could your line be connected. If you did not recite any of Mao’s Quotations, the operator was entitled to ignore your telephone connecting request.
Besides reading or reciting Chairman Mao’s Quotations, many old men and women voluntarily began to learn to perform the so-called “Allegiance Dances” in order to show their fidelity to Chairman Mao.
The “Movement of Wiping Out the Four Olds” (Old Ideology, Old Culture, Old Customs and Old Habits) was coming up then violently. In Beijing city, numerous old paintings, books, calligraphies, antiques and Buddha portraits or statues were burned and damaged. From the Central governments down to the local official organizations or departments, batches of Party and government officials were brought down from their positions. These dismissed high-ranking officials were regarded as “Capitalist Roaders” and some of them were dragged to the streets to be publicly denounced. The “revolutionary masses” would prepare paper caps on which those officials’ names were written (their names were also crossed in red ink, showing that those high-ranking officials were “enemies” of the people). The “revolutionary people” would force those dismissed officials to wear the paper caps and to walk in the streets or squat on the stage while being denounced, even tortured or beaten up.
As a matter of fact, not only those dismissed high-ranking officials were treated this way, some middle-school and college teachers, famous movie stars and other celebrities in the entertainment field,too. Almost every day, there was a mass parade in the city. People waved their red flags and shouted “Long live Chairman Mao” loudly. The whole country was flooded by the “Red Sea”: full of red flags everywhere.
What a crazy world China became!
In order to escape from this “crazy world”, I left Beijing for Shanghai because my mother was seriously ill.
A few months later, my dear mother died of cancer. It was December of 1967, a year and more after the Great Cultural Revolution started.
My mother’s death became my lifetime nightmare. I cannot wake up from it. Up to now, I would still meet her in my dreams from time to time. How I love her! Mother, I sincerely hope you are living happily in the other world!
Chapter Six: Under Reeducation
I never expected this even in my nightmares that the Cultural Revolution could also have incredible impact on us as ordinary university students. We were neither the so-called ‘Capitalist Roaders’, nor the so-called “Bad Elements” who were supposed to have problems with their family background.
One simple fact is that the purpose of launching the Great Cultural Revolution was to target at those who had “the cultural knowledge”, those who were well-educated. University students fell into the category of having “the cultural knowledge”. They were well-educated in colleges. At that time, the Cultural Revolution was gaining momentum, having the intellectuals classified as one of the “Nine Enemies of the People” in China. Those Nine Enemies were: Landlords, Rich Peasants, Counter-Revolutionaries, Bad Elements, Rightists, Traitors, Secret Agents, Capitalist Roaders and Intellectuals.
Fortunately, the Intellectuals were only “enemies” in ideology, defined as “the Stinky Ninth Category”, not the real enemies who should be demoted. The other eight “Enemies” were supposed to be real enemies and must be under rule by fellow citizens. As a result, we young students, naturally among the “Little Ninth Category”, must be re-educated by the workers, peasants or soldiers according to the policy issued by the government.
I, together with my schoolmates, were placed to an army farm and began the time of being re-educated by the soldiers shortly after my graduation.
After we reached the military reclamation farm that was located in the northern part of China, we started to have a kind of military life.
We boys and girls were separated as male and female platoons. The positions of the commanders and platoon leaders were taken over by the real army men. We students could only hold the positions of the Squad Leaders and Deputy Squad Leaders. I was selected as the leader of Squad No. 4 under Platoon No. 2 in our “Students’ Company”.
The military life was extremely hard. Squad members (about a dozen people in one squad) were arranged to share one simple and shabby room. But in the barracks’ rooms, there were no separate beds available for us to pass the night. Only one big Kang were provided. Taking my squad members for example, all twelve boys were asked to sleep in one big Kang only.
Kang is a brick bed, big and rectangle. It is only available in the northern part of China because it is extremely cold in winter time. Under a Kang, there is a hollow space to burn the coal mildly and slowly inside to keep it warm.
Before daybreak of every morning, we were woken up by the burgle call. We were required to act like real soldiers who must finish everything within a few minutes, including getting up, dressing, going to the restrooms, making up the bedding, brushing teeth and washing faces. When we heard the “gathering whistles”, we must run quickly to the drill ground and stand up in lines. Our platoon leaders, the real army men, would lead us in all morning military drills. It was only after the hard training was completed were we allowed to have our breakfast at the dining hall.
I still remember the extremely cold winter evening when we first got to the military reclamation farm. There was no farm work to do. But for the purpose of “reeducating”, the intellectuals like us must find something to do. And our Students’ Company leaders decided to order some boy students to dig a fish-raising pond in a wasted field not far away from our barracks. The leading person was our Platoon Leader, a young soldier who was about 20 years old. The young soldier said to us: “After the fish pond is finished, we can raise some fish in it when spring comes. Our food treatment will be thus improved since there will be fish to eat.”
Upon hearing the order of “Let’s start”, we, about 20 boy students, immediately began the pond digging project.
But we came to a difficult issue. As students in universities, we had never done any hard laboring before. Using picks and shovels to dig a pond turned out to be a big challenge for us. Plus, it was cold wintertime and the dirt on the ground was freezing hard. When we gave the frozen ground a hard dig, no soil was loosened except leaving a slight trace of digging mark on the ground. We had no choice but trying our best to dig the ground again and again.
As a saying goes: “persistence means victory”, we did not give up, continuing our digging work with determination. But just after a couple of hours of digging, we were all wet with sweat, tired out. When the first day of work ended and we got back to our barracks, we felt as if our bodies were falling apart.
“Constant effort yields sure success”! Several days later, the fish-raising pond was indeed constructed. Watching such a beautiful pond, we forgot about our fatigue immediately and our hearts were fully filled with happiness.
The cold winter of 1968 passed finally and the early spring of 1969 arrived. One early spring day, all the students of our Platoon NO. 2 were ordered to meet in the rice fields. The leading man was our Platoon Leader. He told us to stand in lines and then said: “Please enter the fields and try to loosen the soil so that we can start to plant the rice afterwards”.
Following the Platoon Leader’s instructions, we male students rolled up our trousers and insert our bare legs into the fields. The field surface was still icy. As soon as I put my feet into the icy fields, I realized the water was so cold that I felt as if my feet were being pieced with thousand of steel needles.
In order to fight against the incredible coldness, we all began to recite loudly Chairman Mao’s saying of “Determined to sacrifice, overcome all difficulties, strive for victory”! No matter how hard we tried, but we could not leave our feet submerged in the extremely cold rice fields for a long time. Upon discovering such a realistic situation, our Platoon Leader had to decide to stop this kind of dangerous action. He ordered us to stop the work and to come out of the fields at once. We moved back to our barracks safely.
To put our feet and legs into the icy water of the rice fields for some time was really a hard matter to us. But it could be easily shrugged off the shoulder comparing to another incident: jumping into the cold river water for fishing in early spring. When we worked in the rice field in early spring, only our feet and legs were exposed to cold water. But when we went fishing, our whole body was inside the icy river water!
There was something which happened in the early spring of the second year during my military reclamation farming years. One morning, our Platoon Leader selected four boy students including me to get ready for fishing in the pond, saying that the purpose of doing so was to improve the food quality of the whole Company’s food.
It was a very cold early February morning. On the way from our barracks to the fishing pond, we stopped by the general shop of the farm and bought two bottles of 72-degree Erguotou. Erguotou was and still is a very well-known and popular brand liquor produced in Beijing area. In addition, we told the other members of our Squad to take the quilts of our “Four Fishermen” to go to the fish pond together with us. The strong liquor Erguotou was to help us warm our bodies before and after the fishing. And the four sets of quilts were to wrap us up after we got out of the icy pond water.
Led by our Platoon Leader, we, all the members of our Squad, were marching towards the pond. After we got to the pond, we four “Warriers” took off all our clothes except for the shorts, drank several mouthfuls of 72-degree Erguotou, put a few drops of Erguotou on our palms, use our two palms to rub it hard on our bodies from face to toe. Finally, four “Warriers” jumped into the pond.
You could never imagine what the real cold means unless you yourself actually experienced it: the pond water was like a sharp knife cutting into our skin! I felt as if the blood all over my body was suddenly frozen. And I felt dizzy. Under such circumstances, it was difficult for us to move in the water, let alone to open eyes wide, fishing!
We swam in the pond only for a few minutes before coming out of the water without catching any fish. As soon as we reached the bank, our roommates wrapped us up from top to bottom in quilts in order to avoid “death of coldness”.
It was only after a long while that we four “Warriors” finally felt normal again. At that moment, our Platoon Leader, who was watching us from the very beginning, gave us an ambiguous smile, saying, “You college students are not able to suffer from hardships!” Upon hearing this, I indeed asked myself: “Am I a person who does not dare to undergo hardships?”
There was, however, also fond memory of the farm.
When the spring time came, the whole farm put on a completely new look: the golden winter jasmine were in full blossom, and the peach trees were giving their most beautiful red flowers to attract people’s attention. The weeping willows around the pond banks were budding in dreamy light green. What a wonderful picture!
The spring season is but also a starting time for us students to get busy with our farm work. In the past two years during my stay in the farm, from spring to summer down to autumn, I could hardly remember how many pieces of rice seedlings I had transplanted or how much ripe rice I had harvested. Neither did I remember how many cubic meters of earth I had excavated when I was asked to join the people who would open up any wasted land in the farm area. The only thing I still remember is that when the farm’s rice harvesting time came, it was very normal for us to work 13 to 14 hours per day in the fields.
Every coin has two sides. After two years of farm work, big changes took place. We, the “Little Stinking Number Nine’, became much stronger physically. Our bodies were full of energy. Our appetite was extremely good. It seemed to us that we were getting much closer to the standards of “qualified re-educated students”.
We were also aware of one fact: changes made through our physical status were somehow not enough for us to be fully reeducated! The even more important task for us to complete was to change our ideology! In order to help us achieve this goal as soon as possible, both our Students’ Company and Platoon Leaders ask us to work hard at our “political study” and “ideological re-moulding”.
Every week, we were asked to spend two afternoons in “political study”, ignoring the fact that our farm work load was really heavy. Besides, some sudden questioning was occasionally launched with the purpose of “testifying and challenging” our ideological re-educating results.
One normal night, we were all sleeping soundly after the whole day’s hard work. It was so quiet around our barracks and nothing could be heard inside the room except a few soft and sweet snoring. Suddenly, a pressing bugle sound broke the quietness of the night, awakening all of us. We got up at once, dressed in the quickest way, rushed towards the drill ground. In the process of running, we thought to ourselves:” This is a very unusual military bugle, and there must be something urgent!”
When we reached the drill ground and lined up, we found that our Company Leader, Company Political Instructor and Platoon Leaders were already there. The Company Leader walked towards us a few steps, and then he stopped and said to us in a very serious way:” We have just got an urgent notice saying that there would be an extremely serious earthquake in our area. And therefore the Company has decided that we would be transferred to a safer area”. “But”, he continued, ”We need to keep a dozen or so people here in order to protect our military camp’s property, and also the pigs and chickens we are raising. Who among you are willing to stay at this dangerous place?” Silence. After a while, the Company Leader added:“ Those who remain at the military camp might have the life threatening situation”.
Upon hearing the remark, we were dumbstruck. We did remember that when we were still at the university, there was a very serious earthquake in Xingtai area, Hebei Province. A lot of people were killed in that disaster. Almost all of us immediately understood what it would mean to us if we would stay at an earthquake area.
There were certainly some smart students who thought differently: “When a serious earthquake happens, all constructions, human beings and livestock would be destroyed/killed. What would be the meaning of letting a few students stay at the earthquake area?”
Anyway, for a long time, everyone kept silence. No one seemed to know what to say or act accordingly.
Realizing the fact that no students would express their decision of staying at a dangerous area, the Company Leader was a little bit annoyed. He began to scold us for our being “selfish”, “meek” and “futile”. Just at that critical moment, a student nicknamed “Brave Zhang” stepped forward and loudly announced that he would be willing to stay. Encouraged by “Brave Zhang”, we, several Squad Leaders, came together and had a brief discussion. When an ordinary student like “Brave Zhang” dared to stay, why not us, we thought. Thus, we told our Company Leader that we wished to stay, too. Hearing this, our Company Leader began to smile, showing satisfaction with our reactions.
But something we did not expect happened. Our Company Leader suddenly changed the tone. He announced to all of us: “This is just a test. No earthquake will happen! I just want to see if you students are strong facing emergency!”
Whatever, our tense nerves were finally relaxed.
On that very day’s afternoon, we did not go to the fields for farming. Instead, we were all asked to stay in our rooms for a round of discussion. I still remember that we were asked a few questions like “in addition to natural disasters, if something really bad should happen, such as man-made calamities, what would you do? Do you dare to fight against your enemies face to face? Are you going to sacrifice your life for the revolution? Are you afraid of death”? Discussion of these serious questions was supposed to deepen the sense of revolution inside intellectuals’ minds and souls. “This is a very serious matter,” our Company Political Instructor stressed before the discussion began.
To these questions, the answer of most of us were like this: “Imaging there is a war between the enemy and us. We are not afraid of gun fighting between the enemy and us if our Company Leader and the Platoon Leader are together with us. Neither will we be afraid of being killed by a gun bullet since the pain of dying through that would be very short. The most terrible thing for us to imagine is that we become war prisoners because our enemies might torture us in cruel and barbarous ways. They might whip us, break our legs or even cut out our eyes. If we could not sustain the pain, we might then surrender to our enemies and become traitors”.
We had been living in a peaceful surrounding ever since childhood, had never undergone any war. How could we compare ourselves with those martyrs like Liu Hulan, an anti-Japanese war fighter who was killed by the enemy when she was only 18 years old? Or Xia Minghan, a revolutionary fighter as well as a communist who was killed by the Kuomintang Regime at the dawn of New China was born in 1949?
Our replies might not have made the Company Leader and the Company Political Instructor feel 100% satisfied, but our daring to fight shoulder to shoulder with the Company and Platoon Leaders on the battle impressed them. They came to the conclusion that we had made great progress in the ideological re-education.
As soon as the discussion was over, our Company Political Instructor sent a report to his superior, the Battalion Political Instructor. In his report, our Company Political Instructor wrote in a detailed way about how we were tested in a so-called earthquake drill, and how we were willing to fight against the enemy together with those real soldiers. The purpose of writing such a report was to enable the Battalion Leaders to praise our Company leaders’ successful work in re-educating us students. But to our Company Leaders’ great surprise, the Battalion Leaders did not praise it. On the contrary, the Battalion Political Instructor criticized our Company Political Instructor badly. We were told later that the Battalion Leaders thought the methods of our Company Leaders “re-educating” us students were totally wrong. “How could you Company Leading people use such ways to fool the innocent and simple-minded students?” In his reply to the report, the Battalion Political Instructor wrote.
Ever since then, the whole Company had been quiet and peaceful for a long time because our Company Leaders no longer dared to use all those ridiculous ways to “test” us students again.
As a matter of fact, except the heavy farm work and regular ideological re-education, our military reclamation life was sometimes really happy and interesting. For instance, during our slackfarming season, our Platoon Leader occasionally would arrange us to do some wrestling activity. Our Platoon NO. 2 Leader was very good at wrestling and none of us students could defeat him.
When official holidays (such as the National Day and the Spring Festival) arrived, we felt always extremely happy and excited because we would not be asked to do any farming work. Besides, we could enjoy good food. The Company Leader would instruct the Kitchen Squad to either slaughter a pig or kill a few chickens for the company’s holiday celebration. It was easy for the Kitchen Squad to do that because those pigs or chickens were raised by ourselves. A big dinner-gathering was always a time when the Company Canteen was filled with happy atmosphere. Soldiers and students would be sitting together, having drinks in big bowels and eating meat by large pieces. To celebrate such important holidays, each individual squad must prepare one or two performances. We would use the canteen place as the “performing stage”, dancing, singing and even playing comedy skits. At such moments, even our Company or Platoon Leaders would swallow their pride, no longer put on serious faces and would even join us for dancing.
Then the summer time came and passed. In the early autumn season, we could find a lot of crabs and eels in the rice fields or the fishing pond. The Company Authority would arrange some male students to catch crabs and eels to improve our food. I still remember that before we left for the rice fields for eel catching, our Platoon Leader gave us a special lesson on how to do the eel catching. He said to us that we must first come to understand the differences between eels and water snakes. “When you put your hand into the hole and touch the creature, you could immediately know whether it is a piece of eel or a water snake. If the creature’s skin is smooth, it must be an eel; if that creature’s skin is rough, it must be a piece of snake”, he said to us. The Platoon Leader also told us to watch carefully when catching female eels because it was the time for the female eels to give birth to their babies. Those female eels became very ferocious. “They might bite your fingers badly when you touch their bodies”.
At that time, people did not use fertilizers or insecticides. The farm had an excellent eco-environment. Normally, after a few hours’ eels or crabs catching., we would easily have a “bumper harvest”. All the eels and/or crabs we caught would become our delicious food at dinner time.
One thing seemed to be very interesting: most of the soldiers at the farm came from the northern part of Anhui Province, and those young men were farmers before they joined the army. They would not eat eels by nature. That was one of the reasons why there were so many eels left in the fields or pond. Those eels were really fat and huge. One eel could weigh almost one kilo. The crabs in the pond were huge, too. What a wonderful memory!
We students thus passed a tired, nervous, painful, but also happy time in the process of our being re-educated. We spent two full years there.
On the very day two years later, our Company Leader ordered us come together, and announced that the Government had made a decision that we as the reserved personnel must be dispatched to some concerned government departments to better serve the country.
As a result, I was selected by the Ministry of Railroads and began my working career. The Ministry felt that I was good at both family background and academic knowledge after my report. They decided to let me go to Africa to work there as an English interpreter for assisting the building of Tanzania-Zambia Railway. My re-education was obviously ended successfully.
Chapter Seven: Lovely Africans
After two years of re-education at a military reclamation farm, I finally returned to the society to begin my work career. The Foreign Aid Department under the Ministry of Railways decided to send me to Africa as an English interpreter for assisting in building the Tanzania-Zambia Railway.
On one day in the Autumn of 1971, I left Beijing for Dar es Salaam, the biggest commercial and industrial city of Tanzania to start my Africa Safari (the word of “safari” carries the meaning of “travel in East Africa”, Tanzania in particular).
After a long flight, I arrived at a place where the Head Office of China Working Team Assisting in Constructing Tanzania-Zambia Railway was located. The Head Office Building was at a quiet corner in the harbor area of Dar es Salaam seaport. That was a two-storey beige building used for both commercial and residential purposes. The rooms on the ground floor were used as our offices while rooms on the second floor were living quarters.
On the opposite of the building was the Indian Ocean. You could get a panoramic view standing on the balcony and looking out to the ocean. Exuberant rhododendrons were surrounding the building and their red flowers were in full blossom, extremely charming and beautiful.
Having finished supper after my first day of work, my roommate Mr. Ma and a Kiswahili interpreter invited me to go for a walk. We were stepping out of the building when the magnificent scenes in front of us caught our attention immediately: The sun was setting, spreading incredibly colors in the sky to the west. The Indian Ocean in sight was so tranquil. Gentle sea breeze was rippling over the surface of the Ocean to our face, cool and cozy. The huge torrid during the day was totally gone. What a fantastic African dusk!
Mr. Ma and I were chatting relaxed, from daily life to some political matters while strolling in a trail where various kinds of flowers and grasses could be seen on both sides. “Niao”! Suddenly, a loud sound was uttered, and I was taken aback. Raising my head, I saw three handsome African boys standing in front of me with sweet smiles on their faces. The sound “Niao” must have come from them. Even though I did not understand what “Niao” meant, I politely gave them a friendly smile and said to them, ”How are you”? The three kids happily said good-bye to us, leaving behind a string of laughter.
After they are gone, I turned to Mr. Ma, “Why did those kids use the word of ‘Niao’ here? What does the word ‘Niao’ mean?” In Chinese, ‘Niao’ means ‘pee pee’. Mr. Ma smiled: “The Tanzanians are very friendly to the Chinese and they all, men and women, old and young, liked to learn some Chinese. What those three boys tried to say was ‘Ni Hao’!” to you. But their Chinese pronunciation was not good enough, therefore it sounded like ‘Niao’ instead of ‘Ni Hao’.” “Ni Hao” means “How are you” in Chinese.
That was the first time for me to encounter Africans. The friendly image of these three lovely boys has hence rooted in my mind.
The project of Tanzania-Zambia Railway was huge and difficult. The manpower of tens of thousands Chinese workers sent to Africa from China were far from being sufficient. Therefore, the Chinese Working Team Head Office, cooperating with the local government authorities, recruited a lot of native African laborers for assisting the Chinese workers in building the Railway. There was however a problem: The local workers did not have any working experience in railway constructing. The Chinese Working Team Head Office had to select some outstanding Chinese workers and skillful technicians to act as “the leading people” or “foremen” for helping their African fellow workers. Normally, a Chinese foreman would lead a dozen or even more African laborers, teaching them how to work on the site.
After some time of working together, the Chinese leading people or foremen and the local workers became very close in relations, treating each other very friendly. The local workers followed their foremen’s instruction willingly on working procedures, trusting their leaders a lot.
I would like to mention that the African workers at the time were really open-minded, optimistic and passionate. On the other side, most of them were not good at money management. They spent money at random and did not consider saving some for the future. As soon as they got the weekly salary, they would immediately spent it at eateries and/or taverns for eating and drinking. When no penny was left, they would simply pick up some ripen wild fruits in the mountains or forests for food, thus keeping a sort of half-starving condition. There were indeed a lot of wild fruit trees in the Railway construction area. And those fruit trees were green all year round.
The Chinese workers were entirely different. They followed the Chinese traditional rule of “storing up grain against famine”. They not only planned on using their money wisely, but also tried to advise their fellow African workers to do the same. Under the Chinese workers’ influence, some of the local African workers started to save money, too. Here came the question: Where could they deposit their money? The railway construction site was mostly in the mountains, the forests or the valleys. There were no banks available before the railroad reached cities. Besides, most of the African workers somehow did not trust their wife very much. Maybe out of the fear that they might spend the money at random, too? Anyways, they did not want to give the money to their wife to keep. In a loss, they felt that they should ask their Chinese fellow workers, the foremen in particular, for help.
Jackson was an ordinary Zambian worker. But this young man knew how to read and write. He wore a pair of glasses and looked like an “intellectual”. As a matter of fact, he was a junior-middle-school graduate. Besides, he spoke good English. In terms of working, Jackson was considered an outstanding worker. He was fast at learning skills from his Chinese foreman.
After a period of time, Jackson established a very close relationship with his foreman who he worked together with. He trusted his foreman very much. One day during the work break, Jackson boldly asked his foreman to help him keep the money he had saved up. The foreman happily agreed.
His foreman, a middle-aged guy who came from Sichuan Province in China, was prudent, sincere and kind. A few months later, both the foreman and Jackson had saved a lot of money. But then a new issue came up: Where should the foreman keep or hide the saved money? At the railway construction site, the living condition was always like this: several Chinese workers lived together, sharing one room or a tent. African workers lived separately, having their huts or tents close to the Chinese people’s dwelling places, though. There were no secrets among the roommates. The careful foreman did not dare to put their savings in the tent. Instead, he and Jackson went to a piece of uncultivated land nearby, and dug a hole on the ground. Then they used a big piece of waterproof tarpaulin to wrap all their money tightly, put the wrapped package into the hole. In order to keep the money in the hole safely, they covered the hole entrance with a stone, and laid some tree branches on the stone, too. To remember the location of the hole, they made a special mark on the hole entrance spot.
With time passing by, their accumulated “deposited” money was sent to “the Bank” – the hole again and again. Each time after they covered the hole entrance with more money-hiding, both foreman and Jackson felt happy and satisfied. In their eyes, this plan seemed to be perfect!
A few more months passed. One day, the foreman and Jackson were dispatched by their boss, the Branch Team Leader, to work at another construction site which was quite a distance away from the foreman’s dwellings. That day after work, the foreman and Jackson went back to their homes, passing by the place where they deposited the money. There, they stopped totally shocked.
In front of them, the piece of uncultivated land had disappeared. Instead, a new storage yard was built. Piles upon piles of building materials were scattered on the ground!
The Branch Working Team wanted to establish a warehouse at this spot for the purpose of supplying the construction materials more quickly and easily. The uncultivated land was completely changed into the solidly tamped ground. It was impossible for the foreman and Jackson to find where their “deposited bank” was! Facing such an unexpected situation, the foreman became so nervous and shocked that his face turned terribly pale and his eyes red. He wanted to cry so badly because he knew that all his money was gone! In front of the same situation, however, Jackson behaved differently. He was also surprised and upset at the beginning. But just a couple of minutes later, he felt it was actually a funny thing to lose his money this way. He could not help but beginning to laugh.
I would like to proudly tell you before starting to talk about the following story that when I worked in Africa as an interpreter, I was considered a “VIP” because the people working there together did need my help and assistance. An interpreter was an indispensable bridge for the Chinese to communicate with the locals there.
One afternoon, Mr. Ying, the Head Cook of our Head Office kitchen, asked me to go with him for buying eggs. Instead of visiting a local farm market nearby, Mr. Ying insisted on letting the driver send us to a rural area far away from where we lived. Mr. Ying said that eggs purchased in the countryside were “not only less-expensive, but also fresher”.
Our Head Office was situated in a small city named Mbeya, which was just on the border zone between Tanzania and Zambia. To save money, we decided to follow Mr. Ying’s decision and left for an unknown place in the country. After over one hour’s driving, we finally arrived at the destination which Mr. Ying wished to visit.
When I worked in Africa, I knew a fact that the rural areas on the African Continent were vast, but with sparse population. It was impossible for us to find any farm markets in the countryside. Before we left for egg-purchasing, we were told that we could only get eggs from some individual farmers who would usually put their poultry products at their own doors. Facing such a vast land, where could we find such egg selling places?
Just when we became upset and perplexed, a middle-aged African woman entered our sight with a big water pot on her head. And she was walking towards us! (It is well-known that most African women in the county use their heads for loading or carrying things, such as water pots, clothes or firewood.) Seeing her, we were so happy and excited. Mr. Ying and I began to walk fast towards her. When I was close enough to her, I used English to greet her. Unfortunately, the African woman did not understand me at all. This made me realize that this woman could probably only speak Kiswahili, Tanzania’s native language.
As an English interpreter, I could only speak English and not Kiswahili at all. It seemed impossible for us to use any language to communicate now. “What shall we do? How can we let the woman understand what we need”? Both Mr. Ying and I had the same questions in our minds.
Just at this critical moment, Mr. Ying got a brilliant idea. He began to try body gestures to express what we wished to do. He walked a step further to the African woman and faced to her directly, opened his eyes as much as possible (as you know, hens usually have big and round eyes), and used his two hands to make all kinds of gestures in order to imitate a hen who was going to lay eggs. He even prostrated his body forward like a hen in her net, preparing to lay eggs. He also began to utter the sound of “gageda, gageda, gageda… In the end, he raised his body but put his right hand below his buttocks’ position, making a gesture of getting eggs from the buttocks’ place.
The African lady got very surprised at the beginning because she did not understand why this Chinese man made so many strange actions. But when she came to understand what the Chinese man meant, she felt so funny that she couldn’t help bursting out a high-pitched laugh. Controlling her laughter, the African woman gestured us to follow her. She took us to a farmer’s home where there were eggs in baskets!
After expressing our gratitude and saying good-bye to the lady, we approached the eggs owner, an old African man who looked honest and kind. Mr. Ying used a gesture to ask the old man about the egg price. The old man protruded three right hand fingers, uttered the sound of “Shillingi”. With this, we immediately understood what this gentleman meant because the Kiswahili word of “Shillingi” was originated from the English word of “Shilling”. All the Chinese working in Tanzania understood the meaning of this word. That was clear that three eggs would cost one Shilling only.
Upon knowing the fact that the price was so good, Mr. Ying took out a one-hundred Shilling bill from his pocket and gave it to the old man, showing clearly to the old man that he would like to buy 300 eggs. But to our big surprise, the old man rejected the money and kept on waving his right hand, meaning that he could not accept our way of trading. We were totally confused because we could not understand it. And then, the old man took three eggs from the basket, raised one finger up while saying “Shillingi”. Finally we got it: We must give him a one-Shilling-coin for buying three eggs. He would not accept a big bill of one-hundred Shillings.
At that time, most of the African people did not have chances to learn to read and write, and they did not have any Maths knowledge either. This old man obviously did not understand the relations between 300 eggs and a one-hundred Shilling bill. I guess he might be afraid of being cheated, too. Facing this old man’s tough attitude, we knew we must follow his rule of trading or the deal would be canceled. We had no other choice but tried to see how many one-Shilling coins we had. We three searched every pocket of ours and finally gathered 30 one-Shilling coins. Only! As per the old man’s rule of “one coin against three eggs”, we did thirty time transactions and finally bought 90 pieces of eggs.
When the deal was completed, the dusk fell. It was time we drive back. On our way back home, I could not help recalling what I saw that day. The old African man was really lovely, yet our head cook Mr. Ying was even more lovely when he became a hen!
Chapter Eight: Loneliness vs Happiness
I was working in Africa for a total of four years from 1971 to 1975. As an English interpreter serving the Head Office of the Chinese Working Team Assisting in Building the Tanzania-Zambia Railway, I was assigned to work in Tanzania for the first two years. At that time, the Head Office was located in Dar es Salaam, the former Capital city of Tanzania, also the most industrialized and commercialized city in this East African county. Moving forward with the railway construction progress, I had the opportunity to work in Zambia for my second two-year working term because the Head Office had been moved from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to Mpika, a small city in Zambia.
Four years could be long if nothing special happened. But to the people working in Africa for the railway construction, the time period of four years was not only long, but also extremely difficult.
As per the rule stipulated by the Ministry of Railways, for those who were working in Tanzania or Zambia for the railway construction, their normal contract requirement was a four-year term where every two-year period was considered as one term. In general, most people should at least finish working for two terms, a total of four years. When the first two-year term was over, both workers and cadres would be allowed to go back China for a one-month vacation. That was to say that the people who worked for the Tanzania-Zambia Railway building (regardless of being officials, ordinary technicians, interpreters or workers), would not be able to reunite with their family members unless they could finish their two-year working term.
You may well imagine the hardship that within the two years time, or in 24 months or 730 days, the Chinese railway builders (including me) could not see their family members, their wife and kids in particular. Neither could they have telephone calls (at that time, no long-distance calling facilities were available between Africa and China). The only way for them to keep contact with their family members was through mails. But it would take almost one month to get letters from their beloved ones in China because all mails were carried by ships: the ocean freight ships between China and Africa. No air mail was possible at that time. They might have to look at the pictures of their dear ones so that they didn’t forget how their family members looked like!
I myself was a typical example. When I left China for Tanzania in the year of 1971, my wife had been pregnant for three months. After my first two-year term was finished in the year of 1973, ready to go back to Beijing for the vacation, my elder daughter, Liyuan, was already one and a half years old. My little angle was not only able to walk, but also knew how to speak and sing. I still remember that I arrived my home in Beijing during the daytime. I brought enough candies and cookies for Liyuan. She was friendly to me (in her eyes, I was a “stranger” or a “guest” only). But when the evening came and she found that the “guest” was still at her house with no intention to leave, she began to feel very unhappy. To make it worse, when she realized that the “stranger” was going to spend the night together with her mom and her, she got so angry that she began to cry desperately. She insisted on asking her mom to get me out of the door because she thought the “stranger” was a “bad guy”. In order to express her feeling of disliking me, she even spit the cookie crumbs which were being chewed onto my shoes. Imagine how sad and upset I felt at that very moment!
But even though we experienced loneliness, our African life was no lack of happiness. We did not have TV. We couldn’t sing Karaoke during our spare time. But we could entertain ourselves with chess-playing, cards-playing, free-chatting and radio-listening. When the weather was fine in the evening, we could have some sports such as volley-ball, badminton or table-tennis. Our Working Team Head Office’s Volley-Ball Team was one of the best teams among all the construction branch teams under the Head Office’s leadership. As the Captain of our volley-ball team, I was quite busy at those “friendly matches” seasons and felt absolutely happy about it. In addition to it, we had an even more interesting entertainment: movie-watching, even though it was a monthly event.. As per the rule, the people who were working at the Head Office could enjoy movie-watching every month. When the evening came, all of us would become busy and excited. Some people were busy with movie-screen hanging (the movie-screen must be hanged between two huge and tall poles in the Head Office resident yard before the movies started). Some others would be busy wiping and cleaning the yard. And still some others would be pulling the electricity wire and installing bulbs. After the preparation work was done, all members of our Working Team Head Office would go to the courtyard with small wooden stools or small camp chairs in it. We would sit and wait well in advance for the open-air movie watching. The movie-watching evening was almost a holiday or a visual feast to us!
One thing must be mentioned: the railway constructors (officials, technicians, interpreters and laborers) were all “bachelors” because no wives were allowed to come to Africa to live with us. Not even our NO. One Head Office Team Leader, Mr. Bu Ke, who held the title of a Vice-Minister of the Chinese Railways. We could enjoy full freedom after work, over the weekend or in the holiday season.
The Ministry of Railways learned the fact that we, the railway builders, had really a hard life in Africa. The related authority decided to send the Chinese Railway Acrobatic Troupe, which was under the Ministry’s direct jurisdiction, to Africa to solicitude for us. The acrobatic troupe started their debut performance tour in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Upon completion of the railway construction of the Tanzania section, quite a few Chinese technicians and administrative staff members had to stay behind in Tanzania for helping the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority with the management and the railway operation. The performance went on for almost a month before moving to Mpika, Zambia, where the Chinese Working Team Head Office was located. The Acrobatic Troupe performed so well at our Head Office’s courtyard one evening that we, all the “bachelors” working at the Head Office, were totally thrilled.
The acrobatic evening performance reminded me of something quite interesting. One evening, after enjoying the acrobatic performance, we all went back to where we lived. Since it was too early for bed time, several of us sharing some common interest decided to go back to our office for a chat. We are enjoying our casual talk when a loud door knocking sound came. One of us reached the gate and opened the door. A slim and pretty young lady appeared, standing at the door side. Politely inviting the young lady into the room, we asked her for her purpose of visiting us. The young lady told us that she was one of those who gave us acrobat performances that evening. She came to our office, wanting to meet Mr. Tang who just came to Zambia from Beijing. We all knew that Mr. Tang was an engineer who worked at the Chinese Railway Ministry and was sent to Africa by the Ministry Authority for assisting in the railway construction. Upon hearing that, we immediately sent someone to Mr. Tang’s room to ask him to come to meet the young lady. A few minutes later, Mr. Tang came.
As soon as the young lady saw Mr. Tang, she asked him eagerly: “Are you the person who gave me the letter written by my husband last night after the acrobatic show was over?” Mr. Tang nodded his head and said “yes”. The young lady continued to ask: “In the letter, my husband told me that he gave me a gift. He said he asked you to give it to me when handing over the letter to me. But I only got this letter, not the gift. Why?” Hearing what the young lady said, Mr. Yang seemed totally confused. The young lady’s husband was his colleague who was working at the same office with him. But this guy only gave him a letter before his departure from Beijing to Africa. No gift was given to him to take it to Africa for his wife. Mr. Tang told the young lady clearly: “No, your husband did not give me anything other than the letter.” Hearing that Mr. Tang denied the “fact” that there was a gift for her, the young lady got very upset, even a bit annoyed. She immediately took that letter out of her pocket, opened it to a page, pointed at one line with her right index finger, saying:“If you do not believe what I said, please read this line yourself.” Mr. Tang lowered his head and started to read this line in the letter. After reading it, Mr. Tang could not help bursting into laughter. Out of curiosity, we all stepped towards Mr. Tang and lowered our heads to read the letter. And we could not help but laughing out loudly, too! This young lady had got married not long ago. The couple were still very much in love. While the wife left for Africa and stayed there for a long time, the husband missed her very much. Therefore, he wrote in the letter: “I am asking Mr. Tang to bring you ‘WEN’, my dear wife!” The Chinese character “WEN” means KISS in English. Unfortunately this young lady did not have a chance to go to regular school because she started to learn the acrobatic skills as a little girl already. She did not know the meaning of the Chinese character “WEN”…
Upon hearing the explanation of the character from Mr. Tang, the beautiful and slim young lady blushed so much in shame. She gave a hard stomping and hastened out of the room, followed by a string of hearty laughter after her…
Chapter Nine: Dacron, Twelve-Tube & Rolex
In the 1970s, material supplies in China were in bad shortage, and the people’s life was still poor. Therefore the people like us, who were working in Africa, were trying our best to save as much money as possible from our monthly allowance (For your information, the allowance payment was almost equivalent to our standard and normal monthly salary at that time). And the purpose of our doing so was to spend the saved money on buying something special. And those special products could be used as valuable gifts for our family members. In a word, we wanted to buy the products which could not be obtained in China. During our stay in Africa, the following three products were most welcomed by all the Chinese officials, technicians, interpreters and workers:
One, a kind of fabric which was called “Dacron”. This product was made in Britain (shipped to Africa for selling);
Two, Japan-made “twelve-tube radio-recorder”;
Three, the most well-known Swiss-Made watches, particularly the watch with the brand name of “Rolex”.
(1) Dacron Fabric
Dacron was a kind of chemical and blended fabric which was made in England and then exported to Africa. This kind of fabric was thin, but very durable. And the clothes made from this fabric were wrinkle-free after being ironed. So, Dacron fabric was naturally welcomed by the Chinese who used to wear clothes made from cotton. At that time, China was not able to manufacture Dacron, and therefore this kind of imported fabric was regarded as a sort of “high-class” material, and its selling price was very high. But in Africa, this material was less expensive.
Upon hearing the news that some Dacron fabric material had just arrived at the Head-Office Retail Shop, we all rushed to the Shop for a purchase. As I had no idea of how to make full use of the fabric for making shirts or skirts for my wife, with the assumption that the material must not be wasted too much after shirts and skirts were tailored, I decided to buy the fabric with the fixed measurement of 4 meters long per piece without caring about what color of the fabric would look more beautiful. I bought several pieces of Dacron fabric, and thought that my wife would feel very satisfied after she received such “good-taste” fabric. And then she should be happily making several pieces of clothes with those fabric. To tell you the truth, the Dacron fabric I selected and bought for my wife were of plaid designs, and they were very pretty in my eyes. But things did not go as expected several years after I finished my African mission and was back in Beijing, China. One day, my wife told me that when she wore a piece of shirt with short-sleeves to work, a lady colleague in her office “friendly” laughed at my wife and said to her that the shirt, which was made from a piece of fabric I bought for my wife in Africa, looked like a piece of table cloth (most of the table clothes are designed with plaid styles). This unexpected comment made my wife feel very awkward. From this, you can see how “good” my taste against fabric choosing was!
(2) Twelve-Tube Radio-Recorder
In addition to the above-mentioned Dacron fabric, another product, which was also very attractive to us, particularly to those Chinese young workers, was the Japan-made twelve-tube radio-recorder. This kind of electricity appliance was very rare in China in the 1970s, not to mention it had dual functions of radio broadcasting and voice recording. Besides, this radio had extremely high sensitivity that we could easily tune in radio stations in China, such as China National Radio for the Chinese –language broadcasting and Radio Beijing for English speaking.
If you had a chance to visit the residing area for a certain branch working team after the workers had finished supper, you could immediately enjoy such a amazing picture: numerous workers, a group of three people or a group of five, walking casually while listening to the radio. They were enjoying their leisure time after the whole day’s hard working. But one thing was for sure: the radios they were listening to were all the same kind of twelve-tube radio-recorders (with the brand name of “National”), no other brand or styled radios would be purchased by the workers. As far as I know, almost all the Chinese people (including me), who had worked for the Tanzania-Zambia Railway, bought and possessed this brand radio because it was priced fairly while the quality was excellent.
Talking about this kind of radio, it also reminded me of something really interesting.
A driver who worked at our Head Office suddenly realized he had not yet bought a twelve-tube radio recorder and his two years working-term would come to an end in only one month. So he felt very upset because he thought the purchasing of such a radio-recorder would be a must, but he did not have enough money to buy. He already spent all his money on buying other products. In order to fulfill his wish of getting such a radio, he decided to talk to the Head Office leader to see if he would be allowed to stay in Africa for an additional three months. By doing so, he could then save enough money to buy the radio. But first of all, he must discuss this matter with his wife in China, and the only way he could do so was to send her wife a letter. Fortunately, one of the engineers was requested to go back to Beijing for a short business trip by the Head Office. So, the driver asked the engineer to take the letter to Beijing and then mail it to his wife in Shenyang City, Liaoning Province where his home place was located since the engineer would fly to Beijing only. Meanwhile, the driver did tell his wife in the letter that she must send the return letter to Mr. Tang in Beijing first (off course, Mr. Tang’s address was given to his wife), and then his colleague, Mr. Tang, could bring the letter back to our Head Office location — Mpika, Zambia personally (Mr. Tang’s China trip only last for one week, after his trip was over, he would fly back to Africa). The driver was confident that his wife would agree with him on his decision.
But the matter developed beyond his expectation. The fact was that after his wife got his husband’s letter, she felt very angry and upset. And then she, an ordinary textile factory worker, who was very straightforward and lovely, wrote a letter to his husband. In the letter, she wrote: “When your two years working term is over, you must come back home at once! You are not allowed to postpone your stay in Africa. I do not care about your purchase of a set of twelve tubes or even thirteen tubes radio, and the only thing I am concerned about is that you will bring back definitely and safely your own ‘tube’”. We did not know the contents of this letter until the driver, a very open-minded guy, read this letter openly. Upon hearing it, we all nearly burst our sides!
(3) Rolex, Swiss-Made Watch
The third product which we liked a lot was the Swiss-made watches, Rolex, this famous brand in particular. The reason was that all Swiss watches were very well-known in the world. We all knew that the Swiss-made watches were very expensive and no ordinary Chinese people could afford to buy such watches since our living standard was still low. But situation in Africa was different, and the Swiss watches were not so expensive there. Why？ It was simply due to the two reasons. One, the Swiss watch manufacturers did want to open up the African market; and two, they were aware of a fact that over ten thousand Chinese workers plus a relatively big number of the Chinese officials, technicians and interpreters were present in Tanzania and Zambia, and these people were of great purchasing power. So, the Swiss watch manufacturers purposefully lowered the watches’ prices. That was why the Swiss-made watches in Africa were less expensive.
If we could save all our allowance for six months, the saved money would be enough for us to buy a Swiss-made watch with Omega brand. If some of us were really vainglorious, we would save up the entire year’s allowance and then we would be able to buy a Rolex watch, the best brand among all Swiss watches.
For your information, while working for Tanzania-Zambia Railway construction at that time, we all benefited from a “free supply system” in terms of our daily life. We wore the working uniforms provided by the Railway Ministry without paying any money, and we could enjoy three meals free of charge. If we wished, we could save all our allowance one month after another.
I was a man who was not fond of vanity too much, and therefore a watch of Omega was good enough for me. But almost all the Chinese workers were dreaming of obtaining a Rolex watch, a higher-class one than my Omega. Those young workers could show off in front of their family members, relatives and even friends when they would return to China after their working terms ended. And therefore those workers saved every penny they could save, just for the purpose of buying a Rolex watch. The fact was that all the workers whom I knew had purchased their ideal watches with Rolex brand.
But a new issue came: those workers were pure laborers who were working at the construction sites from morning till evening. How would they be willing to wear this kind of costly watches while working because they knew that hard laboring could most-likely jeopardize or even damage those expensive watches. In front of this realistic situation, what else they could do with those watches? It was impossible for them to just “put it on the shelf” without even touching it! Consequently, a few very strange things suddenly happened because those young workers started to play “watch games”.
Almost every day after the supper time was over, you could see quite a few groups of young workers form into circles. They would be squatting down on the ground, and in the center of the circle, there was a big wash basin which was filled with cold and clean water. Those young and inexperienced guys took off the watches from their wrists one after another. And then they put those expensive watches (Rolex and/or Omega, but mostly Rolex watches) into the wash basin, trying to see whose watch would be more water-proof after they were submerged in water for a long time (it was up to those young men to decide if 30 minutes or even an hour time would be needed).
The other game was: several young workers were standing in a line in a parallel way. And then they took off the watches from their wrists. By referee’s order of “the game now begins”, those young men respectively threw their watches to the sandy and solid ground in front of them. Those workers tried to throw their watches as far as possible in order to see whose watch or watches would be of the most shock-proof. Unfortunately, quite a few watches were damaged after the game being treated this way.
After reading the story up to here, you may not believe it and you may even say to me: “This is impossible!” “This is really ridiculous, and it might be a story out of ‘One Thousand and One Nights’”! But I must tell you that was something true and real because I am the telling witness! The reason for why those young men should behave this way was that they felt very lonesome and painful when they were far away from their dear ones in China. And they were working in Africa, an uncultivated and dangerous vast land! By doing so, they could at least let their minds get off some unhappy things!
Chapter Ten: Big Mouse & Tiny Insects
The two African countries of Tanzania and Zambia are geographically linked in territory. At the time when I was in Africa in 1970s, this vast piece of land of Tanzania and Zambia not only enjoyed the sunshine all year round, but also had a rich profusion of trees and grasses. On this expansive and capacious land, there were various kinds of beasts, birds and insects. Instead of saying anything about the ferocious and powerful predators such as lions and leopards, or describing how spectacular when hundreds of thousands of wildebeests were running like tidal waves, crossing over the Mara River for the yearly great metastasis. Neither would I find it necessary to tell you stories about how magnificent the view was when numerous herbivorous gazelles, zebras, elephants and giraffes were eating fresh grass on the grassland and strolling casually in the forests. The “River Monsters” of hippopotamus and crocodiles were frolicking in rivers or ambushing by the river, prepared to prey on the vegetarian animals for food. Instead, I’d like to share with you something amazing about a big mouse and a few strange insects.
(1)Story On A Huge Mouse
This happened during the time when I was working at Tanzania-Zambia Railway Head Office in Mbeya, Tanzania. One early morning, a very loud scream sound from Mr. Dong, the driver working at the Head Office, broke the morning silence at the Head Office’s residing place. The people concerned including me all ran out of our bedrooms and tried to find out what had happened. By asking Driver Dong, we all came to know that he found a very big mouse in the courtyard.
You may not be able to imagine how huge that mouse was! By our rough eye measurement, that mouse was about two-thirds of a meter long from head to tail. The mouse looked fearless and ferocious, when it was staring at the people standby in front of it. Even when it was surrounded by us, it showed no intention to escape. On the contrary, the mouse started to bare its teeth and open its claws, preparing to fight against its “enemies” should it be under attack by us.
Chinese people always regard mice as a kind of harmful and disease-infecting creature. Whenever mice should appear, the people around would try their best to kill them. In order to get rid of that big mouse, we called our watchdog, A-Huang, to come to us. We ordered A-Huang, a male dog, to attack the mouse. To everyone’s great surprise, A-Huang was so scared when he saw the big mouse, he barked furiously in confusion for a short moment before running away like a gust of wind .
It seemed to us that we had no other choice but trying to kill the mouse by ourselves. We went to our bedrooms and took out weapons like shovels and sticks with which we beat the mouse finally to death. Just at the moment when we would throw the dead mouse away, Driver Dong stopped us suddenly, saying “wait for a moment!” Then this young man went to his bedroom and came back with his camera. He let one of his roommates use his camera for taking a picture of him and the dead mouse. “I will show this picture to my family and friends after I go back to China. Without the huge mouse as a reference object, the picture is not convincing for them to believe the existence of such a big mouse in Tanzania,” Driver Dong said to us. Following his example, we took the similar pictures one after another. “I will show the picture to my family members, too. Simply with my unusual encountering with this big mouse, I already feel that my African journey has been very worthwhile,” I said to myself.
(2) Story On Flies
One section of Tanzania’s famous highway, which is called the Great Northern Highway, was built to pass through a jungle. And an area with a radius of several kilometers within the jungle was classified as a “restricted area” by the Tanzanian government. The reason for such restriction lied in the fact that it was the “Hometown” of a kind of very dangerous flies called “Tsetse Flies”.
Judging from their physical appearance, the Tsetse flies looked just like ordinary flies. The only difference between Tsetse flies and other ordinary ones was that the former was a little bit smaller. I was told that within this restricted area, the Tsetse flies’ quantity was limited because there was only one Tsetse fly in every 10,000 flies. But one must never ignore these inconspicuous insects because they could be fatal if one is stung by them. Tsetse flies usually carried a sort of fatal virus hidden in the fly’s saliva. If a person is stung by a Tsetse fly, the virus is released from the fly’s saliva and then transmitted to the victim’s brain, harming the nerves slowly. At the very beginning, the victim might not feel much discomfort. But with time passing by, the virus would keep on damaging the victim’s brain nerves, letting the victim fall asleep. Once in sleep, he or she would never wake up again. A few more days of such sleep would leave the victim lose his or her life.
In order to prevent people from passing through this restricted area and risk being attacked by Tsetse flies, the Tanzanian government set up two military posts on both ends of the highway section. Whenever any vehicle approached to either one of the post, the driver would be stopped by the soldiers on duty. And then the driver would be asked to vacate the vehicle. After all passengers and the driver left the vehicle, the soldiers would spray a kind of special disinfectant in the vehicle. The concerned driver and the passengers would not be allowed to get back to their vehicle until the disinfectant was sprayed. It was said that the Tsetse flies dislike the smell of this disinfectant, and therefore they would lose their interest to get into the vehicle for attacking human beings.
Tsetse flies were dangerous. But there were more surprising danger to do with flies. I do not know the scientific name of that kind of flies, therefore l would call this species of flies as “strange flies”(I guess it might belong to the species of “Putzi Flies”). As far as I know, these flies have a very strange habit, i.e. the female flies love to lay eggs on the bright and light-colored clothes which are laid to dry in open air under the sun.
Ms. Zhang was an English interpreter who was working together with me. This 27-year-old pretty lady was born in Shanghai, and ordinarily she always wore a pair of glasses. She was lively and friendly, and got the nick-name of “Little Gazelle”.
One day, “Little Gazelle” suddenly felt an itch on her back. So we suggested her go to see a doctor at our Head Office’s Railway Hospital. She accepted our suggestion and went to the hospital accordingly. After she went through the doctor’s examination, the doctor found that there was a bulging red and swollen spot. Under the doctor’s further and more detailed examination, he discovered that there was a foreign matter inside the spot. Finally the doctor decided to have a small operation at that spot. After giving local anaesthesia, the doctor began to use the surgical scalpel to cut the spot. To the doctor’s great surprise, some baby flies were flying out of the spot one after another. As soon as all the flies got out of her back, “Little Gazelle” felt totally relieved.
It was not known until some days later that “Little Gazelle” had hung a piece of light-colored shirt outside her bedroom for drying a few days prior to what happened. One female fly laid some eggs on her shirt. When “Little Gazelle” was wearing this piece of shirt, her body temperature was working as an “incubator” until all baby flies were born. What a strange species of flies!
(3) Story On Beetles
When I first got to Africa, I worked as an English interpreter serving the Chinese Working Team Assisting in the construction of Tanzania-Zambia Railway. And our Head Office was located at a harbor area in Dar es Salaam. In front of our Head Office Building, there was a beautiful and clean beach by the Indian Ocean. It was the common habit of those (including me) working for the Head Office to take a walk on the beach after supper. At this time, if we were careful enough, we could always discover quite a few small shallow sandpits on the flat beach. They were “constructed” by a kind of tiny beetles (the local Africans called this beetle as “Killing Beetle”). After a sandpit was ready, one “killing beetle” would hide itself beneath the bottom of the sandpit, ambushing for an attack. When an insect was foolishly crawling close to the sandpit, the slight crawling sound would be transmitted automatically to the beetle’s “hearing or feeling system”. And the “killing beetle” would dash out of the sandpit bottom and catch the insect like a lightning. As a result, the unlucky insect became the Killing Beetle’s delicious meal.
The facts showed that this beach was not only a dangerous place or trap for insects, but also is dangerous for human beings. When you were walking on the beach with bare feet, you must be very careful because you might be attacked by a kind of tiny insects which were nick-named as “African Peas”. “African Peas” typically liked to hide themselves inside the sand. When you were walking into the territory of “African Peas”, one or even more “peas” would silently crawl onto your foot or feet. But their final destination would be your toe seam or seams because they wanted to establish their “homes” there (those “African Peas” were too small to be discovered with our human eyes). Once they settled down in your toe seam or seams, they would live there “happily”, and the female insects would lay eggs inside your toe sutures. A few days later, you would feel very uncomfortable on your swollen toe or toes. That was the time for those African Peas’ babies to be born. You would surprisingly find that some small “African Peas” coming out of your swollen toe seam or seams one after another.
In Africa, you are witness of such astonishing incidence!
(4) Story On Ants
In addition to the above-mentioned African insects like “Killing Beetles” and “African Peas”, I also would like to tell you something about two different kinds of ants. One is “African Termites”, and the other was “Killing Ants” (I guess they might be one species of the ferocious African Fire Ants).
East Africa only has two seasons all year round: one is the dry season, and the other is the raining season. At the beginning of every year’s raining season, numerous African termites would suddenly appear on the vast East African land. They crawl on the land and fly in the air. It shows this is the most suitable time for those insects to be growing, foraging, mating and reproducing.
When I was in Africa, I saw with my own eyes an amazing view one day before the evening was approaching: Thousands upon thousands termites were coming out of their nests, and then flying in the open air. It was really a spectacular view when so many termites, pieces by pieces and groups upon groups, were “dancing” in the lower sky. Just in a few minutes, all flying termites would land on earth and took off their wings, quickly crawling to different directions. It was sure that those matured termites were going to find or establish their own future homes.
But an even more interesting thing was that when those termites were flying in the lower sky, many local Africans of all age groups would stretch their arms in excitement or use the nets which were weaved beforehand to try to catch the flying termites. Once they got those termites, they would immediately put them into their mouth and began to chew the delicious food. I was told by the locals that the live termites tasted very good. More importantly, they were rich in protein. This helped the poor locals’ health.
As far as the “Killing Ants” are concerned, I must honestly tell you that I had never encountered those terrible insects. I was only told by a senior African, whose village was close to our Head Office in Mbeya, that this kind of ants were much larger than other normal ants. They were very ferocious and their crawling speed was very fast.
As you know, ants are social insects. In order to find better food sources, those terrible “Killing Ants” usually liked to march in large formation, by hundreds of thousands. Besides, those ants had high IQ. They really had the capability of “cutting paths through mountains and building bridges across rivers”. When they got to a small river bank, some of those ants would sacrifice themselves by “building” an ant bridge in a way of “head-tail connecting”. And then all other ants could go across the “ant bridge” smoothly.
I must mention the most terrible character of this kind of “Killing Ants”. If they pass by a local farmer’s henhouse or sheep pen on their way of marching, the “Killing Ants” would ferociously and crazily engulf and consume the chickens or sheep there. Those ants were so cruel that they would be biting and eating the captures’ flesh completely until only the bones were left.
What a bloodcurdling story!
Chapter Eleven: Elder Sister Yang
When the Tanzania-Zambia Railway was under construction, about ten thousand Chinese people plus more than ten thousand local workers were involved. For the purpose of taking care of the railway builders’ health and safety, as well as giving necessary medical treatments to those who might get injured during some unexpected accidents, the Chinese Railway Ministry decided to establish a comprehensive and multiple-functional hospital in the city where the Chinese Working Team Head Office was situated. And this Railway Hospital was in Mpika, Zambia, its location just next to the Head Office.
The hospital was allocated with enough experienced doctors and qualified nurses. Besides, it was very well equipped with all kinds of medical instruments and facilities which were shipped directly from China to Zambia. The Hospital personnel, e.g. the doctors and nurses, came from Beijing General Railway Hospital and other medical organizations which were under the local Railway Administrations.
As the railway construction was covering large areas of both Tanzania and Zambia, it was deemed necessary to send some doctors and nurses to the different construction sites. Those medical professionals were organized as “medical teams” whose mission was to provide medical services to both the Chinese and African workers who were constructing the Railway.
Out of sense of responsibility and kindness, those medical personnel also helped the local African people with medical treatments if needed. Due to their excellent medical care and whole-hearted service, the local Africans praised and honored the members of the Chinese Medical Teams as “Angles in White”.
As the Chinese and African workers were of large numbers while the numbers of the medical personnel were limited, the latter had to often rush around as fast as possible to different construction sites where work-related injuries occurred. Sometimes, they had to rush to the highways or countryside roads where traffic accidents had occurred and the first-aid was needed. Medical services was for sure a must when railway builders got sick and hospitalized. Anyways, the medical professionals were extremely needed and were regarded as an indispensable force during the railway construction period. The doctors and nurses worked tightly together with all the railway builders in order to fulfill the glorious mission of constructing “the Great Uhuru Railway” as was called by the Africans there. Uhuru means freedom in Kiswahili.
I myself established an unbreakable bond with Elder Sister Yang, a head nurse, as well as a laboratory technician, who was working at the Mpika Railway Hospital.
It is known to all that in the 1970s, the financial situation in Africa was rather backward, and the sanitary conditions there were very poor. When I entered the fourth year of my work in Africa, I was attacked unfortunately by a very serious kind of diarrhea. I did not care too much about my illness at the very beginning because I only had loose bowels and felt tired. I thought that might be caused by either my improper eating or a cold caught in sleep. But a few days later, I felt my situation was getting worse, since I kept on passing loose bowels. Sometimes I was so weak that I could hardly get up from bed. It was only until that moment that I realized that I’d better see a doctor. Therefore I went to Mpika Railway Hospital which was adjacent to our Head Office.
After registering at the Registration Window and waited for a while, it was my turn to see a doctor. The doctor asked me a few questions regarding my illness. He was obviously experienced and came quickly to the conclusion that I was suffering from bacillary dysentery. In order to doublecheck whether his diagnosis was correct, he asked me go to the Hospital Laboratory for a stool test.
I stepped into the Laboratory only to find there a tall and pretty lady about thirty years old. She took care of me, asking me friendly to follow her instructions so as to finish all procedures regarding the testing. When the testing result came out, the pretty lady in the lab told me clearly that there was a “full vision of white blood cells”. As I did not know what the “full vision of white blood cells” meant, I asked her to give me an explanation. She told me: “By saying ‘full vision of white blood cells’, it means that under the microscope, there are all of white blood cells. It shows that you are suffering from a serious diarrhea because a normal man’s stool should not have any white blood cells. White blood cells can only be seen in stool when a person is attacked by inflammation. I think you need to get medical treatments at once. ”
From that day on, I went to the Hospital almost every day, listening to the doctor’s advice and getting injections as directed. Besides, I had to take medicine three times a day. From time to time, I had to go to the Chemical Laboratory for testing. Whenever that lady technician was on duty, she was always kind, patient and responsible in answering my questions. Besides, she was always in smile when communicating with me. I discovered soon that she not only treated me well, but also all other patients. What a pleasant, outstanding and qualified medical worker!
Gradually, she and I had become good acquaintances. She told me that her name was YANG Yanhua. And she was not only a laboratory technician, but also the head nurse of Mpika Railway Hospital. Bach then, in order to make full use of the limited medical personnel, it was normal for some professional people to undertake multiple functions. As for that lady, her job duties were for both out-patients and in-patients.
I visited Mpika Hospital very frequently and had chances to communicate with other patients. We all felt that Head Nurse Yang was a doctor in its full sense. And how warm-hearted, capable and responsible she was! She was older than all of us youngsters, so naturally we called her “Elder Sister Yang”. As time passing by, Elder Sister Young and I became very good friends.
More than one month passed without seeing my diarrhea situation getting better. Although the doctors had done their utmost to cure my illness, prescribing me with different oral and injectable medicines, my dysentery kept on bothering me badly. My general health condition was becoming more critical. As my second two-year work term was approaching the end, the Head Office Authority decided that I should go back to Beijing. There, I could take my one-month long vacation and continue to see doctors.
Both doctors and Elder Sister Young had done what they could in terms of my medical treatments. They ought to be relieved from their stress with me. Besides, both they and I were aware that the General Railway Hospital in Beijing under the Railway Ministry’s administration, was very advanced and well-equipped. It ranked as one of the best hospitals in Beijing. It went without saying that I would receive better treatment there.
Before my departure for China, I thought I must go back to Mpika Hospital to say good-bye to the medical personnel including Elder Sister Yang. I must express my sincere thanks to them for their help and assistance. After I did it in the hospital, Elder Sister Young suddenly pulled me aside and gave me a letter. She told me to hand the letter to a doctor who was working at Beijing’s General Railway Hospital. She added: “This doctor is one of the best in our General Hospital. He would give you great help in treating your illness. In order to let him know your trouble in a detailed way, I wrote a report concerning your illness which is enclosed in this letter”.
I was deeply touched because I did not expect that an ordinary medical staff member like Yang, whom I came to know not long ago, could be so responsible and caring for her patients!
A great surprise took place two months after my return to China: Elder Sister Yang came back to Beijing, too! Her two- year work term was over. As per the regulations, medical people was only allowed to work in Africa for one term, which means two years. Elder Sister Yang and I could meet again! She could continue to offer me necessary help at Beijing’s General Railway Hospital!
In the next few months, both the doctor and Elder Sister Yang tried very hard to treat my illness, even if the results were still not ideal. It might be due to the fact that the African diarrhea bacteria was too stubborn and strong. The regular medicine or injections prescribed, therefore, were not responsive enough to my illness.
Just when everyone felt hopeless, Elder Sister Yang, a very experienced laboratory technician, put forward a proposal. She suggested to the doctor that the laboratory must do the test of “bacteria culture”, explaining that she would firstly take some of my feces and then keep the feces in the “bacteria culture box” for culturing enough bacteria. Thus, she could use all kinds of existing antibiotics to test for resistance to see which antibiotic would be most effective. Once the most suitable antibiotic was chosen, the doctor could use it to try tokill the bacteria inside my body. The doctors accepted Elder Sister Yang’s proposal.
A Chinese saying goes like this:＂Everything comes to the one who waits”. Elder Sister Yang finally found the antibiotic, which was called gentamicin. It was the most sensitive medicine for getting rid of the diarrhea bacteria I was suffering from. As per the laboratory test result, the doctor and the nurse injected a large amount of liquid medicine directly into my large intestine once a day. After a long period of almost four months in treatment, this terrible bacteria was finally conquered!
I spent so much ink describing the whole process of how my serious illness was cured because I was totally impressed and deeply touched by the spirit displayed by the “Angles in white” at that time. It is obvious that if there were no Elder Sister Yang’s close concern and great help, my illness would have lasted for a much longer time or I might even become a patient suffering from the chronic enteritis. I’m very grateful to the medical people like Elder Sister Yang and want to say “thank you” again to her as well as all other medical personnel who helped me greatly.
I’d love to mention one more thing here: Elder Sister Yang’s daughter, Miss Zhou Zhuo had also the experience of working as a head nurse in Africa. An outstanding head nurse like her mother, Miss Zhou was also very professional, responsible and capable. She not only inherited her mother’s mantle of being a good nurse, but even succeeded her mother’s fantastic medical ethics. In the year of 2008, Miss Zhou went to Guinea, a West African country, together with a Chinese Medical Team sent by the Chinese Ministry of Health. Together with other medical team members, she overcame various difficulties and offered great service for the local people. They created one life-saving miracle after another with their medical skills and selfless compassion. Their excellent services earned them high opinions from the locals, even honored as “the Health Guardian Angles of the Guinean People”. (for your information, all members of this medical team were females). Miss Zhou was repeatedly praised and awarded as “Outstanding Medical Personnel” by both the Guinean Government and the Chinese Health Ministry.
Elder Sister Yang and her daughter, head nurses of two generations, had almost become a “much told tale”. Whenever I think of them, my heart is filled with respect and admiration. As I am writing this story, it is late at night. The moonlight outside my study windows is very bright. In such a beautiful moonlight, I believe I have caught sight of two Chinese angels, one senior and one junior, each carrying an oil lamp, attending quietly the patients’ ward…
Chapter Twelve: My English Announcer Career
My career as an English interpreter was stopped by a serious illness that kept on tormenting me when I was in Africa working for the Tanzania-Zambia Railway construction. As a result, I had to leave Africa for China for medical treatments.
After spending almost six months on treatment, the illness was finallygot rid of. Hearing that I was back to normal physically, the related leaders of the Railway Ministry suggested me go back to Africa to continue my job as an interpreter there. But I rejected their request because I was really scared of the terrible bacillary dysentery in Africa which gave me so much trouble. It seemed to me that I had no other choice but to say good-bye to the RailwayMinistry and try to find a new job.
One day, on my way back to Shanghai to visit my father, I met by surprise my previous colleague in the train coach. He was a Kiswahili interpreter working in Tanzania. We greeted each other and sat down for a talk. I did not know until that moment that he had left the Railway Ministry a few months earlier and became a Kiswahili announcer working for Radio Beijing (also named as China’s International Broadcasting Station). After he learnt that I had an intention to leave the Railway Ministry and try to find a new job, he said to me sincerely that Radio Beijing was now in the process of recruiting English announcers, and I should go there for a try if I was interested in working for mass media. I thanked him for his kind suggestion and exchanged the telephone number with him.
After staying with my father in Shanghai for a week or so, I went back to Beijing. I called that colleague after return. He warm-heartedly helped me make an interview appointment with the English Department of Radio Beijing.
A few days later, I got to the Broadcasting Building where Radio Beijing was located. At that time, the Broadcasting Building was one of the “10 Top Buildings” in Beijing, and it looked magnificent and solemn indeed. I approached the Building and was stopped by a tall and mighty guard. I explained my purpose of visiting and was allowed to enter the Reception Room for registration.
I stepped into the Reception Room and a staff member there asked me whom I wanted to visit. I told him I came for an interview and he immediately called the English Department. He asked me to have a seat and wait for a while. Just a few minutes later, an over fifty-year-old lady came into the room. She looked very kind, stepping forward and shaking hands with me, introducing herself to me: “My name is Wei Lin. I am the person who is going to make the interview with you.”
Ms Wei invited me to follow her to the office belonging to the English Department. Both sitting down there, she took out a magazine named “China Today”. She opened the magazine to one page, pointed at one article and asked me to read it. At the same time, she turned on a tape recorder on the desk. Afterward, she began to chat with me in English. I was so surprised at hearing her speaking so perfectly genuine English! Both her pronunciation and intonation sounded just like the native speakers. Plus, her voice was so gentle and musical. Respect for this lady rose up in me. I murmured to myself: “Radio Beijing does deserve the reputation of a National Radio Station, having people like Ms. Wei Lin speaking English so nicely!”
The interview was finished. Ms. Wei Lin told me that she would take the tape to the office for the authorities to listen to. No decision would be made until the concernedpeople at English Department listened to the tape.
Three days later, Ms Wei phoned me and said that I passed the test and Radio Beijing decided to hire me. She urged me to go to the English Department to start my new work as soon as possible.
Upon hearing the good news, I was not only overjoyed but also felt proud of myself! I used to be one of the top students in the university. I became an outstanding interpreter in Africa. And now I can even step into the door of the famous Radio Beijing!
As you might know, at that time, the Chinese people did not have the freedom of job transfer. If someone intended to have a job transferred, he or she must get his or her employer’s permission. I made great efforts for it and finally got the permission of the Railway Ministry to transfer me to Radio Beijing. Finally, I became a permanent employee at the English Department there.
I did not realize the fact that it was extremely difficult for me to be a qualified English announcer until I was totally involved in the broadcasting industry. At the first place, I thought it would be very easy for me to become a good announcer because “English broadcasting would be the same as English reading”. I thought that my English was good enough. Plus I had rich experiences in the interpretation field. I thought I could easily become a first-class announcer after some training. But what happened afterwards told me clearly that I was wrong. I can never forget the first day of my working at the English Department. It was a severe head-on blow on me!
On that day, Madam Wei (After joining the English Department, I came to realize that Ms Wei was the Head of that department. She was actually my direct boss), together with three other senior ladies who had profound English attainments, stepped into our office. Following them were four well-known announcers at English Department. Sitting down, Madam Li gave me a piece of English news script and allowed me five minutes for preparation. Five minutes later, she asked me to read this script from A to Z. She also told me that the whole reading would be recorded. After I finished my reading, Ms Wei turned to the three ladies who were all above fifty years old and whose English level was all very high as well as the four first-class announcers, asking them to listen to the recorded tape carefully and to make comments on it.
I thought naively that those professionals would speak highly on my English reading. But on the contrary, they gave me quite negative comments. Some said that my reading was no more than “sound reading”. The real meaning of the whole scrip was not fully shown. They said that “meaning expression” was more important than “sound reading”. Some commented that my intonation was a little bit too British. I was requested to use “Radio Beijing’s English”, neither too British, nor too American. One of the most well-known announcers even stated that my voice was not rich enough. In other words, my voice did not have sufficient and strong penetrating power. He straightforwardly pointed out that the richness of my voice would not be able to reach the ears of those foreign listeners who loved Radio Beijing. He finally suggested that I must learn how to do the chest-resonance in order to make my voice rich and musical.
In a word, no one at that meeting turned on a green light to me as an English announcer. The final conclusion was that I must make enough practice and learn actively from other announcers in order to become a proficient English announcer as soon as possible. It was obvious that there might be a very long way to go before I would be able to step into the Radio’s broadcasting studio as a qualified English announcer.
The comments, which were made by these English Department’s VIPs, were just like a vat of icy water being poured at me from head to toe. I was so frustrated and upset that I felt my heart froze up. Realizing that I was very dejected, Ms Wei stepped forward to me and said: “You must understand that English broadcasting is a new career to you. It is not easy to be a good announcer. You need time to be familiar with your new job. You will have to practice more and try to learn from the experienced announcers. After enough practicing and learning, you will become a qualified announcer soon.”
On my way back home that day, I thought a lot: I used to be a dignified and outstanding English interpreter when I worked in Africa for the Tanzania-Zambia Railway construction. I even served Mr. Bu Ke, Head of the Chinese Working Team, as well as a Vice-Minister of the Chinese Railway Ministry. But now I am only a beginner plus an “apprentice” at Radio Beijing. I was even deemed by those authoritative VIPs as an unqualified announcer. Why was I so stupid to give up my decent position of a senior interpreter just to come to this English Department as a greenhorn? The more I thought of it, the more disappointedI felt. I cound not even enjoy my dinner any more that evening.
But when the bedding time came and it became quiet both indoors and outdoors, the tranquility cooled me down. I said to myself: “Since I have already been transferred from the Railway Ministry to Radio Beijing, it is entirely impossible for me to change the current situation. In other words, I could never go back to the past. Now I am requested to do a good job at the English Department. It seemed to me that I have no other choice but try my best to be trained as a qualified announcer within the shortest possible time”.
After a quite long time of learning and practicing, I gradually realized the fact that broadcasting was of broad and profound know-how. Firstly, an announcer must have a complete understanding towards the scripts he or she was going to read. A piece of broadcasting work could never be perfect unless the real meaning of the script was to be fully expressed. Secondly, an announcer must learn how to use the voice in a scientific way. The only way to make the voice better was to practice. Thirdly, as far as our English pronunciation and intonation were concerned, a Radio Beijing’s announcer must neither use pure British English, nor the American accent. The listeners we faced were around the globe, not only from north American and Britain, but also from the rest of the world. So we were asked to use a kind of “neutral English” (or “Radio Beijing’s English) for broadcasting.
With the time passing by, I found out that we usually did our broadcasting work through collective efforts in groups, and a working group was usually composed of four announcers, the script-writer, the tape-recording and the monitor before the recorded tape be delivered to the broadcasting studio for the listeners. At that time, no direct broadcasting was allowed. Every piece of script-reading must be recorded first. Sometimes, the broadcasting group seemed just like a drama troupe, performing different kinds of programs every day. For example, when we read news every morning, the announcer must use a solemn, neutral and peaceful voice. When we broadcast government statements or foreign affairs announcements, our announcers’ speaking manner must be serious, powerful and full of righteousness. If some cultural and interviewed articles or drama performances were broadcasted or played, it became an entirely different story: the concerned announcers must read the scripts with quite much sentiments, sometimes cordially, sometimes humorously, and sometimes relaxedly.
I kept on practicing, learning, imitating and voice-training for about six months’ time. Finally I succeeded in becoming a qualified announcer. On that particular morning, Madam Wei, the Head of our English Department, made a formal notice to the whole department that I could start to read and broadcast news. Besides, I was allowed to read some special articles which were of “less weight”.
I did not realize the fact that I was really a lucky guy until one day when one of my colleagues talked about the subject of how to become a qualified announcer. My colleague told me that quite a few people including herself who were selected by Radio Beijing for being trained as announcers, did not have such luck as what I had. They also practiced, learned and were trained for years. But still they did not obtain the formal announcers’ certificates. As a result, they had to do errand, those “odds and ends” work at our English Department. She asked me sincerely: “You have not realized how lucky you are?”
In addition to my luckiness, I understood that it was Madam Wei who enabled me to succeed in playing the “announcer’s role”. As a matter of fact, Madam Wei was my mentor for my broadcasting career. She not only taught me how to master the broadcasting skills, but also encouraged me not to belittle my own potentialities of becoming an announcer. She said to me that my past working experience would definitely help me a lot for understanding the scripts well. I would not become a good announcer until I could read the scripts with full feelings!
With Madam Wei ’s help and my own efforts, my dream of being an announcer was realized. But I was well aware of a simple fact that much more efforts would have been needed if I wanted to become a little better as an announcer from that stage. At that time, I was only allowed to be involved in updated news reading and one special program which was called “China in Construction”. I was only a new hand, and a second-class announcer. There would be a long way for me to go before I could become a first-class announcer. Look around at the English Department, one could easily see that besides Madam Wei Lin, an outstanding veteran announcer, there were seven other outstanding announcers. Two top announcers were the overseas Chinese who came from Jamaica and Australia respectively, with English as their mother tongue. Another two were broadcasting elites who had been sent by the English Department to Canada and USA for broadcasting training. Upon completion of three years’ training abroad, they came back to do their original work. Three well-known announcers graduated from Beijing Broadcasting Institute (now renamed as “Beijing Communication University”), majoring on English Broadcasting. Accumulating profound experiences in English broadcasting, they were very skilled and confident in the profession. Among all those outstanding announcers, I was only a rookie, neither having experiences, nor the rich skills.
There was a quite interesting thing at the English Department, which was an unwritten “regulation”: If an announcer was nominated to “be promoted” from a second-class announcer to a first-class one, he/she had to be not only approved by the head of Department, Madam Wei Lin, but also consented by all the seven first-class announcers. The final decision then would still have to be made by the three authoritative seniors with high English level, followed by a Canadian expert who was hired by Radio Beijing. As a second-class announcer, I worked at the English Department of Radio Beijing for three years.
Then good luck knocked at my door again. One day, I was on the morning shift. I just finished my news and a short commentary at the broadcasting studio and returned to our office to enjoy breakfast bought from a local restaurant close to the Broadcasting Building when the Canadian expert, a middle-aged pretty blonde lady, came into our office and said loudly to us: “I have just finished listening to the morning news and commentary broadcasting. Please tell me who read that commentary on condemning the Soviet revisionism (For your information, in the 1970s, China had two enemies in ideology: One was “American imperialism”, and the other was “Soviet revisionism”. ). Upon hearing what the Canadian expert said, I was taken aback, saying to myself: “Oh, God! It was I who read that political commentary. Was there anything wrong?” But I repliedimmediately: “That commentary was read by me”. Far beyond my expectation, the expert turned very happy and praised me: “You did a great job on this commentary reading! You not only displayed the commentary in its language accuracy, but also fully expressed its strength and power in terms of a political statement.”
The comments made by the Canadian expert relaxed me instantly. As a matter of fact, this piece of news spread fast among the people working for the English Department. Madam Wei Lin, the Head of the Department, and the three authoritative senior ladies decided to retrieve the taped recording and listened to that commentary by themselves. In the following morning, Madam Wei called all office members for a meeting. And at the meeting, she announced that from that day on, I would be allowed to read all articles or scripts that were usually done by those first-class announcers.
Hearing what Madam Wei said, I felt as if I were in a dream. I said to myself: “How can that be? I became a first-class announcer over night?” Deep in my heart, I thanked that Canadian expert a thousand times. She “gave” me the chance of becoming a “first-class” announcer!
But I knew myself: I was not a first-class announcer at all. I was just a lucky guy!
Chapter Thirteen: Unforgettable Madam Wei
My five-year journalist profession got me acquainted with quite a few popular radio and TV moderators, mass media experts, Radio Beijing’s authoritative seniors, and even a couple of decisive and powerful leading personnel. Some of those VIPs made deep impressions on me due to their excellent work ethics and graceful manners. But Madam Wei, our English Department Director, was the one who left the deepest most unforgettable impression on me. I will always show great respect to this beloved lady.
Madam Wei Lin was my direct superior when I worked for the English Department under Radio Beijing. She was also my good teacher and helpful friend. She kept low profile, showed modesty in communicating with others. In our English Department, no one including me under her leadership ever called her “Director” or “Superior”or “Boss”. We all cordially called her Madam Wei or Lao Wei, implying her seniority.
At Radio Beijing, Madam Wei was so well-known that nobody was unfamiliar with her. Born in a big capitalist family in Shanghai, Ms. Wei Lin was a wealthy daughter who had been spoiled by her rich parents ever since she was a child. But in the year 1941 when she was only 19 years old, this wealthy daughter resolved to give up her extravagant lifestyle, “betrayed” her rich family, secretly fled from Shanghai to Yan’an in Shanxi Province.
In the late 1940s, China was still under a cruel struggle between the Kuomingtang (KMT, e.g. “National Party”, the ruling party back then in China) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP, the opposition party). And the Chinese Communist Party’s headquarters was located in Yan’an. It was due to Ms. Wei’s high educational background (she graduated from a very prestigious missionary university in Shanghai) and excellent English that she was selected by the Party authorities to be an English announcer for Radio Xinhua (“Xinhua” means “new China”), the first broadcasting organization set up by CCP. As the only English announcer, Ms Wei was well-known throughout Yan’an. A few years later, the Chinese Communist Party moved its headquarters to Pingshan County in Hebei Province. And Radio Xinhua followed the relocation. From 1941 when Ms. Wei first got to Yan’an to 1949 when new China was established (CCP took over the political power from KMT), Ms. Wei resorted to her pure and authentic English with her sweet yet powerful voice, keeping reporting to the whole world on the growing and developing courses of the Chinese Communist Party until its final victory, liberating the whole country.
In 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was established, Ms. Wei was naturally appointed as the Head of English Department under Radio Beijing, China’s only foreign-language broadcasting station (after new China was founded, Radio Xinhua was divided into two parts. One was for the China’s national broadcasting, which was called “China Central People’s Broadcasting Station”. And the other was for international programs, which was named first as “Radio Peking ” and subsequently changed into “Radio Beijing”).
As far as Madam Wei’s qualification was concerned, she was doubtlessly a veteran revolutionary. In terms of her ranking, her position was comparable to a mayor of a big city. As number one English announcer in new China, her profound understanding of English was unbeatable. Madam Wei married Mr. Sidney Rittenberg, a very famous journalist and the first American who joined the Chinese Communist Party in Yan’an where he worked together with Ms. Wei. It was indeed Mr. Rittenburg who made joint efforts with his wife Wei Lin, and helped the Chinese Communist Party establish the first Foreign Language Broadcasting Department under Radio XinHua in China. Unfortunately their marriage did not last long and it ended in divorce. A few years after the separation, Wei Lin met another outstanding man, Mr. Cui, who was of Korean origin. Mr. Cui functioned as a celebrated scholar in Beijing’s cultural field. Wei Lin’s remarriage brought her a very happy life ever since with her husband, Lao Cui (Old Cui).
You might believe that Madam Wei who had such a good background plus her reputation in the broadcasting business must be extraordinary. In other words, she must be graceful, distinctive and even a little bit arrogant. She ought to be showing high profile in public. But when I first met her, she looked no more than one of those aunts living in my neighborhood. She wore a plain blue cotton coat and a pair of black cotton shoes, not like a VIP at all. But this middle-aged and ordinary-looking lady was by all means extraordinary, enjoying a high reputation all around Radio Beijing. Her tremendous prestige was not only earned by her hard-working and excellent performance in broadcasting capability, but also by her unselfish and warm-hearted deeds. Should there be any need she sawconcerning her subordinates, she always expressed her sincere concern and offered timely help.
In the 1970s, Chinese people’s living condition was poor and the average income was very low compared to some other countries. Besides, the material supply in China was in shortage. As leading personnel at Radio Beijing, though, Madam Wei’s salary was considered rather high. Almost every month after she got her payment, she would spend a part of her income to the purchase of some candies, biscuits or cakes, and would bring the delicatessen to the office and invite her colleagues and subordinates to enjoy them.
At that time, Radio Beijing had a very special rule stating that each announcer would have the privileged allowance of extra RMB 6 Yuan per month. And this amount of RMB 6 Yuan was supposed to be used for buying some nutrition food for nourishing their voice. RMB 6 Yuan was really a good amount of money in the 1970s. Even as a university graduate who had several years of working experience, one could only get RMB 56 Yuan per month as salary (the new university graduates could only have RMB 46 per month for the first year of working). But Madam Wei never ever took this RMB 6 Yuan allowance. She said: “I have already got a high monthly pay. Why should I still want this RMB 6 Yuan allowance? I should save this money for our country”.
When we worked at Radio Beijing as announcers, we were requested to be on nightshifts quite frequently. There were also extra allowance paid for nightshifts. Each month after I got the nightshift allowance, I happily gave the sum to my wife for our family expenses. But Madam Wei was different. She always contributed the allowance to buying and sharing the midnight snack with her colleagues who were on the same shift with her.
Madam Wei never hesitated in helping others financially, either. Whenever someone was sick or in need of money for some emergency, it was always Madam Wei who came forward to offer money for help.
In my memory, Madam Wei was the most unselfish and zealous superior I ever met with in my working experience. I can never forget how generous she always was when I needed her help.
It was about what happened in the Spring of 1979. I was requested to have a regular physical examination that day. The X-ray photo showed that there was a drop shadow between my rectum and bladder. Naturally, I was urged to have further examinations in order to find out whether it was cancer or just a benign tumor. I took this matter very seriously and visited almost all famous hospitals in Beijing to find out the result. After repeated examination by a few experienced doctors, one of the most authoritative medical experts strongly suggested me to have an abdominal examination as soon as possible because he doubted there might be cancer in development. I was shocked after hearing what the expert said, also felt very upset and helpless. My low sprit affected my family members, my wife in particular. They became nervous and uneasy, too.
The news was so unexpected that my colleagues at our English Department began to worry about my health condition. At that critical moment, it was Madam Wei who first came to my house to offer my wife and me comfort. She also made a suggestion to me that I should go to see a well-known doctor at a very famous military hospital in Beijing for an additional check-up. “This doctor is my younger brother”, Madam Wei said to me. As per Madam Wei’s suggestion, I went to see this young and experienced doctor. After careful and professional examination, he immediately came to a conclusion that it would be impossible to have cancer on the space between the rectum and the bladder. He asked me to forget about this matter and go back to work normally. If I still had doubts about that drop shadow, I could come back to him a few months later to repeat the test.
But I had blind and rather stupid faith in the old and famous expert’s judgment. I ignored the assessment made by that young and experienced doctor. As per the old expert’s arrangement, I was hospitalized. A few days later, the hospital gave me an abdominal operation for confirming the nature of that “drop shadow”. The hospital lab ran a test against a biopsy taken from that “spot” and came to the conclusion that the “drop shadow” was only a calcification left over by the previous repeated injections for the hemorrhoids treatments. It had nothing to do with cancer! What a false alarm!
During my recovering period at the hospital, my wife took very good care of me. She even spent several sleepless nights at the in-patient ward for the sake of me. Early morning on the second day after the surgical operation, I was surprised to see Madam Wei coming into my room, carrying a big marmite with her two arms (the marmite was wrapped with a piece of cotton coat). After expressing her concern to me, she sat down and opened the big marmite by taking the lid off. To my great surprise, the casserole was full of hot chicken soup plus a whole piece of chicken. She told me to eat more chicken soup because it would do my physical recovery good. Chinese people believe that chicken soup made from a hen is the most nourishing soup for the patient after a surgical operation. I came to know later that in order to buy a living hen for soup making, Madam Wei went to the market midnight of that day. Since living hens were in big need, Madam Wei had to stand in a long queue to wait for her turn. After she got the hen, she went back home and spent hours finishing the whole process of making the chicken soup. The chicken soup was cooked in a big marmite, which she took with her to the hospital for me. Madam Wei sacrificed her whole night’s sleep just for this marmite of chicken soup! I was deeply touched, thanking this warm-hearted lady from the bottom of my heart.
As a matter of fact, Madam Wei not only showed her great concern for her colleagues and subordinates in daily life, but also showed her courage in stepping forward bravely to speak up for those in need with a sense of justice. I still remember the Summer of 1976. That summer, a severe earthquake attacked Tangshan City in Hebei Province. The earthquake was so disastrous that almost the whole city of Tangshan was leveled to ground. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed. Even the residents in Beijing experienced the sensation of the strong quake.
No one living in Beijing was allowed to stay at home at that time. My family members and I were forced to spend nights in a tent shelter outside. We lived in that temporary tent shelter for almost two weeks before the remaining earthquake warning was dismissed. But there were no bed available in the shelter. In order to have a “bed” for my family members to sleep at night, I found six pieces of big empty vegetable baskets at our nextdoor vegetable market, setting them upside-down to make them into a “bed”. After the “bed” was formed, I put a piece of quilt with cotton wadding on the top of the “baskets bed”. Finally, I placed a big piece of bed sheet on the quilt surface. We slept in that “bed” during the nights in the shelter, my younger daughter, my wife and I. My elder daughter was sent to Shanghai just after the earthquake to live temporarily with her grandfather.
Since everyone was busy with the earthquake relief work in Beijing, no one was required to go to work unless otherwise instructed. But Radio Beijing was one of the country’s most important “mouthpieces”. Therefore we were required to go to work every day no matter how seriously the earthquake might be. One of our top leaders at Radio Beijing even openly announced: “Even if the entire Broadcasting Building had collapsed due to the earthquake, the announcers concerned must continue working in the building. No one is allowed to escape because we are shouldering the heavy responsibilities for the country!”
In China’s 1970s, personal interests were to be put aside when in conflict with the political atmosphere. The reality for me then was that I had to go to work in any circumstances and my wife had to join the earthquake relief work arranged by the local community. She had to take care of our younger daughter who was only one-year old at the same time. She had no help. Everything must be done literally by herself. Often she needed my help to take care of the family but I was not there. “What shall I do? How can I take care of my routine work and family affairs simultaneously? Should I at least help my wife prepare daily lunch to reduce her burden to some extent?” I asked myself. After some thoughtful thinking, I decided to do the following when placed on daytime shifts: When the noontime was approaching, I would try to leave the office, ride my bike as fast as possible from my office to my home. After I got home, I must count every minute and second for cooking the lunch for the family. Then after my simple meal, I must ride my bike again as fast as I could back to the office. The distance between my home and the Broadcasting Building was more than 15 kilometer per single trip. But I really carried out this plan during that period of time!
When I was at my nightshift turn, I had to spend the night in a small dormitory room offered by Radio Beijing after work. If that were the case, it would be impossible for me to go back home to help my wife. I was frustrated when I faced this awkward situation. It was indeed my burning desire that this anti-earthquake struggle would end as soon as possible! What a sense of relief I felt after the earthquake issue, thinking that everything would be hence perfect!
But things happen beyond expectations. At a summary conference organized by English Department right after the anti-earthquake recovering work, a guy, who was the Deputy Director of our English Department, seriously criticized me for my “being inactive in joining the Department’s anti-earthquake work”. He even said at the meeting that it was a serious mistake that I was absent from time to time while other people were working so hard at their office. His negative comments could definitely bring bad consequences to my future career. I was suddenly facing a difficult situation.
Just at this critical moment, Madam Wei came forward courageously, telling all the meeting participants about my difficult situation in the family. She pointed out at the meeting that even though I sometimes left the office for home to give my wife a helping hand, I still did a good job at coming back to work in time. She even said the following sentences with some emotion: “The fact is that the distance between the Broadcasting Building and R.Z. Gong’s home is far away. An over-30-kilometer bike riding is no easy job. Under this difficult situation, Gong’s work was not at all affected, which was a proof that he has been taking his work seriously!” Everyone was convinced by her words, including that guy. And I was “saved”!
With time passing by, Madam Wei became my family’s private friend. Even after I got transferred from Radio Beijing to a foreign trading company a few years later, we were still close friends. From time to time, I went to see her or invited her to lunch or dinner. In my memory, Madam Wei’s most favorite food include fried peanuts and stewed beef. In China’s 1970s and even in the early 1980s, it was not easy for us to enjoy the two delicious dishes. As an ordinary announcer whose monthly pay was limited, I could not afford to offer such expensive food to her. But after I began to work for a national company under the Foreign Trade Ministry, my living standards became much better. Whenever I had a chance then to visit Madam Wei, I would invite her to a good restaurant to enjoy her beloved dishes, which made her feel happy. The happy time lasted for a long time until one day Madam Wei became sick and could not come out for get-togethers any more.
In the year of 2004, my wife and I held a grand birthday celebration. Madam Wei and her husband were specially invited as our honorable guests. The celebration was held at a five-star hotel in Beijing with a lot of guests attended. When I met Madam Wei and her husband at the entrance of the banquet hall, I was a bit shocked because she looked very old, also haggard and tired. The more shocking thing followed: She could not even recognize me any more because she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease!
The celebration banquet started. Some distinguished guests were invited to either deliver speeches or participate in performances. I stepped to the table where Madam Wei and her husband were sitting at, and asked her whether she could say something at the banquet or sing an English song. To my surprise, Madam Wei understood what I meant. She walked up to the stage and sang a famous English song. Listening to her, no one could believe that she was an old lady who was suffering from senile dementia because her voice was still so sweet, her English pronunciation and intonation were still so perfect!
Her performance won a round of long, long applause…
From that day on, I lost contact with this respected old lady. Time flies like an arrow. So many more years have elapsed. I have no clue if she is getting on well with everything . But deep in my heart, I feel she is still enjoying a happy and peaceful life together with her husband and daughter!
In the above article, I mentioned Sidney Rittenberg, Madam Wei’s ex-husband. In China, he was known as Li Dunbai – phonetic expression of Rittenberg.
During China’s Cultural Revolution, Sidney Ritternberg, an American citizen, became the most important foreigner in China since Marco Polo. He was the only American citizen to become a member of the Chinese Communist Party, and was an active participant in the Chinese communist revolution and its aftermath. He ended up twice in the communist prisons with long stretches of solitary sitting. In 1980, Mr. Rittenberg returned to the United States.
When he turned 91 years old in 2012, a documentary called “The Revolution” was released to the public. It described how a kid from Charleston, South Carolina, USA, ended up in a mountain cave playing gin rummy with Mao Zedong, leader of the Chinese Communist Party.
When Mr. Rittenberg appeared at a Press Conference arranged after the documentary was released, the 91-year-old man looked as feisty as ever. In answering questions raised by the reporters, he talked with fervor and assurance.
Mr. Sidney Rittenberg, a legendary American in China!
Chapter Fourteen: HUA Guofeng,
A Low-Profiled National Leader
In the year of 1979, I was selected by Radio Beijing’s authorities to work as a reporter who should accompany Mr. Hua Guofeng, back then Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as Chairman of the Chinese Military Central Committee and Premier of State Council of the People’s Republic of China, to visit the United Kingdom.
In the 1970s in China, it was not easy for a person to be chosen to accompany the country’s top leader for his official visits abroad. Upon hearing the news, all my colleagues came to “congratulate” me being a “very lucky man”. There were two reasons why I was luckily selected by the English Department: First, my father was an ordinary worker, and therefore my family background was excellent. Second, in terms of my academic achievement, I was good at both English and Chinese. My professional standard as an accredited journalist was thus approved by the authorities.
One thing must be mentioned here: I was not the only one who was selected by the English Department for such a mission. Madam Zhang, one of the English Department’s “Three Most Authoritative Seniors”, was also assigned to go to London for covering Mr. Hua’s UK visit. Madam Zhang’s full name was Zhang Qinnian. She was a very experienced professional reporter. Her English, both written and oral, was perfect. In addition to Radio Beijing, some other mass media organizations also sent their reporters to cover Chairman Hua’s UK visit. Those organizations were XinHua News Agency, the Chinese Central Radio Station, the Chinese Central TV Station and the People’s Daily.
As English reporters, both Madam Zhang and I were responsible for interviewing the influential and leading personnel from different industries in Britain, and also participating in all kinds of important public activities organized by the British Foreign Affairs Ministry. After those interviews were done and the related scripts were written, both Madam Zhang and I would respectively make the recording or narrating by ourselves. Then we used BBC’s facilities to edit the contents in the tapes. Those on-the-spot or script-reading recordings would be sent to Radio Beijing’s English Department by using BBC’s advanced transmitting devices (for your information, before we left Beijing for London, we did reach the agreement with BBC that they would give us assistance in covering Chairman Hua’s UK visit at no cost). After receiving our materials, our English Department would broadcast what we had recorded to the whole world immediately.
In my memory, the happiest and most exciting event I encountered together with Madam Zhang, was being invited by the British Foreign Affairs Ministry to attend a grand and solemn banquet which was specially organized to honor Chairman Hua Guofeng and his delegation members. At that banquet, the VIPs from the host side were the Queen Elizabeth II, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister, and the Cardinal, the Britain’s top spiritual leader.
Even though we were all at the same banquet, the table numbers were entirely different. While Mr. Hua was invited to be sitting between the Queen and the British Prime Minister at table number one, Madam Zhang and I, together with some other Chinese and British reporters, were arranged to be sitting at the Table NO. 36 (for your information, there were all together 38 tables available at the banquet).
In addition to the above-mentioned banquet activity, Mr. Hua, being the Chinese Communist Party’s number one leader, paid a special visit to London Hector Cemetery where Karl Marx, Founder of the Communist Party, was buried. I saw with my own eyes how Chairman Hua laid a wreath at Karl Marx’s tomb and made a deep bow to Karl Marx, the great communist fighter, to show his sincere respect to Mr. Marx.
I also followed Mr. Hua on his visits to a few well-known enterprises including Rolls Royce, and some of London’s beautiful scenic spots such as Big Ben and the Thames.
As an ordinary reporter, I had no chance to be present at the important meetings between the Chinese Government Delegation headed by Mr. Hua, and the British Cabinet members concerned. Neither did I have any opportunities to see how friendly and serious Mr. Hua’s meeting or negotiating with Mrs. Thatcher, the British Prime Minister. What I must proudly tell you is that I did obtain a chance to have a simple meal with Mr. Hua. That took place at the Chinese Embassy in London.
One day during Mr. Hua’s UK trip, I followed the Chinese Delegation to visit the above-mentioned famous enterprise of Rolls Royce, which was situated in Derby City in the central part of England (for your information, Rolls Royce was and is very well-known for its capability of manufacturing both air craft engines and top-class sedans). After the official visit was over, it was already at dusk. As per our plan, we would go to the Chinese Embassy in London for dinner. Chinese love food, the Chinese food in particular. It is usually our strong desire to have a real and delicious Chinese meal after a few days of staying abroad (in London, we almost ate the British food every day). After we got to the Embassy, it was already evening time. A whole day’s hard work and long car ride made us very hungry, thirsty and tired. We hoped to have some Chinese food, say a soup, as soon as possible. Unfortunately, we were told that the Embassy people had already had their supper without knowing that we would be returning for supper. It was due to the careless planning of the protocol officer, who was in charge of the daily life of Mr. Hua and his delegation members. He forgot to notify the Embassy that we would be returning for dinner before we left the Embassy in the morning. Upon hearing that Chairman Hua and his followers did not even have supper, both the ambassador and his wife became very nervous. The ambassador immediately ordered the Embassy’s kitchen chief to get ready to prepare a formal dinner for Chairman Hua and the others. But Mr. Hua stopped the ambassador. He said to all of us: ” The cooks working for the Embassy have already prepared three meals, They must be feeling very tired. Let’s not bother them right now.” He then turned to the kitchen chief and asked: “Is there any food left over at the kitchen?” The chief answered immediately: “Yes, we do have some dumplings, but they are already cold.” Mr. Hua said with a smile: “It doesn’t matter! Just warm those dumplings up and prepare some boiled water for us. We will eat warmed dumplings and drink some hot water, and that would be good enough for our stomach.”
To be very honest with you, after hearing what Chairman Hua remarked, I was deeply moved. I said to myself: “My! He is China’s humble leader and yet he is so amicable!” A modest Chairman Hua was in front of us, a low-profiled leader who deserved all the respect from the Chinese people.
In addition to the above-mentioned “small incident” regarding Chairman Hua’s daily life, I also want to tell you something else on how this State Leader avoided a news press meeting during his visit to Britain,
It is a fact that before Mr. Hua became the leader of both the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Government, this veteran revolutionary was a high-ranking provincial leader who was in charge of the province’s industrial and agricultural productions. Even though Mr. Hua had leading talents in managing a big province matters, he did not have prior experiences in managing foreign affairs issues. Besides, Mr. Hua was a man who was not good at talking.
During Mr. Hua’s official visit to Britain, the British Foreign Affairs Ministry purposefully arranged a News Conference for Mr. Hua to answer reporters’ questions. This arrangement somehow got the approval by the Chinese Delegation. So both venue and time details were confirmed by both sides. In order to get a good position at the conference place, I, just like most of the reporters, went to the conference room very early that morning with the purpose of “being closer to Mr. Hua” for easier communicating with this “Great Leader”. But to my great surprise, it was just about the conference’s starting time that the Chinese side announced to the public that Mr. Hua did not feel well physically and could not attend the conference. Instead, Mr. Huang Hua, the Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister, as well as a delegation member, would be present at the conference. Upon hearing the news, the conference hall was full of uproar. Even though the British Mass Media expressed their concerns about Mr. Hua’s health condition, most of the newsmen had doubts on their mind. They doubted that it could be such a co-incidence. How could the Chairman suddenly feel sick? There must be something unusual happened.
As expected, on the following day, almost all the newspapers in London reported this matter on the front page. Some of newspapers even clearly stated that it was just natural for the Chairman not to be present at the press conference because Chairman Hua was only experienced in managing agricultural matters. He had no confidence in handling diplomatic affairs. That was why he asked the Chinese Foreign Minister to be present at the conference. Personally, I did not know whether Chairman Hua was really sick that day. I only strongly felt that he was such a low-profiled leader.
Before Mr. Hua succeeded Chairman Mao Zedong to be Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, he was already China’s Premier who took care of the whole country’s important matters. At that time, his wife, Madam Han, was Chief of the Human Resource Department of China National Industrial Products Import & Export Corp.. This national company was under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Trade, which was also the company I served for many years after I left Radio Beijing (in this book, I will tell you some stories in details on how I worked for this company). As honorable as the Chinese Premier’s wife, she could afford to be very high-profiled. But on the contrary, she was a prudent and kind lady, as low-profiled as her husband. For instance, she only used bicycle as the transportation means when commuting between office and home, never letting her husband use his luxurious sedan for her daily needs. As a matter of fact, she was so low-profiled that I did not even know our Human Resource Department Head was the Premier’s wife!
After Mr. Hua became Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, Madam Han left our company since she was the “First Lady” in China. But still, both Mr. Hua and his wife showed their low-profiled characters at all time. For example, when Mr. Hua was visiting the four European countries of Britain, France, Germany and Italy, his wife did not accompany him for all those official visits. We can see Mr. Hua’s low-profiled characters through the arrangement of such occasions, restricting his family members from unnecessary public spending. Also, none of his four kids, three sons and one daughter, was allowed to have any special treatments in terms of their careers. None of them was supposed to take advantage of their father’s superior position for earning any extra or improper money. None of Mr. Hua’s kids was a millionaire. They were only ordinary Chinese citizens who earned their decent life by hard working!
In the year of 2008, Chairman Hua passed away at the age of 87. He is now resting forever in a tomb which is located at Jiaocheng County in Shangxi Province, his hometown. It was said that before Mr. Hua passed away in Beijing, he wrote a Last Will, stating that his body must be buried in his hometown. The local government followed his wish and built up a magnificent cemetery for him. This cemetery is called “Hua Guofeng Cemetery”, which occupies an area of 34,000 square meters. It has now become one important scenic spot in JiaochengCounty.It attracts tens of thousands of visitors to pay their tribute to this low-profiled national leader every day.
Chapter Fifteen: Journalists in the 1970s
As an English announcer as well as a reporter, I worked for Radio Beijing for a total of 5 years from 1974 to 1979. The 5 years’ working experience taught me a lot, letting me understand how whole-heartedly most of the journalists in the 1970s devoted themselves to their work. There were no such things as corruption. Their integrity was beyond doubt, represented through the Four Aspects of “Equality & Fair Treatment, Professionalism & Continuous Improvement, Diligence & Responsibility Commitment and Incorruption & Simple Life”.
Equality & Fair Treatment
When I started my English announcer career at Radio Beijing (for your information, when I just joined this radio station, it was named “Radio Peking”. Later it was changed into the name of “Radio Beijing”), my prime impression was that people working for Radio Beijing were all equal to one another, being high-ranking officials or normal editors and/or announcers or even simple staff members. At that time, people like us seemed to be very simple. The only thing we were thinking of was how to do our work well in order to help develop China’s broadcasting industry. And all the people who were in mass media business ought to be equal anyway, living and working in harmony and amity with each other. In one word, in the 1970s, we did not have the concepts of “rank, position, power or right”.
The following cases are typical examples of the above point:
Example One: Madam Wei Lin was our Department Superior as well as my direct boss. But we never called her by using such high-ranking titles of “Superior”, “Director” and/or even “Boss”. We just called her Madam Wei. Some youngsters at our Department even directly called her “Wei Lin”. Madam Wei always accepted happilywhatever her colleagues called her. She never had negative sentiments when her subordinates “did not show enough respect” to her.
Example Two: Madam Xu, another lady who was a veteran revolutionary over fifty yearswith a high rank, was our English Department’s Party Branch Secretary (for your information, in China, the Party is above the Government at all levels. For instance, in any province of China, the provincial party secretary is always the number one leader who controls all provincial affairs while the governor of the province is the second highest rank). In other words, Madam Xu’s position was even higher than Madam Wei’s, but we never called Madam Xu as “Secretary Xu”. We just called her Lao Xu (Old Xu). Madam Xu, too, always reacted happily when her subordinates and colleagues called her that way.
Example Three: Mr. Zhang Xiangshan was the number one leader of China Central Administration Bureau (Radio Beijing was only one sub-organization under the Bureau), and his rank was as high as a cabinet minister. Even such a high-ranking official did not allow himself to enjoy any special treatment when his name was mentioned. We all just called him “Lao Zhang” (Old Zhang), or cordially called him “Comrade Xiangshan”. He was never angry when his high- ranking title was not mentioned. On the contrary, he accepted naturally the way of his name, not his title, being directly called.
I was told that this good, democratic tradition was brought up from 1940s’ Yan’an, a revolutionary basis before the Chinese Communist Party took over the state power in 1949. I felt very comfortable working in such a democratic atmosphere.
But things have changed completely since China started to adopt the new policy of “economic reform & door-opening to the outside world” in early 1980s. It is true that rapid economic development was achieved. But the personal relationship has also been dramatically altered. Just look at the present situation in China, you will find out a very strange phenomenon. When people meet each other, they no longer naturally call each other by names directly. Instead, they always call the titles — no matter his or her rank or position is high or low. For an example, if your neighbor, Mr. Zhang, has a working title of “Director” or a very high-ranking title of “Minister”, you have to call him by his title as “Director Zhang” or “Minister Zhang”. Otherwise he would feel uneasy. Even a person who has a very low position as a “Section Chief” or a “Sub-Section Chief”, you are not supposed to call him or her by names directly. You must call him or her as “Section Chief Wang” or “Sub-Section Chief Li”. Otherwise, he or she might be annoyed, thinking that you lack respect for him or her.
As far as the owners of private enterprises or companies are concerned, those private owners are even more eager to get enough “decent respect” or “honor” from others. They feel happy when you call him or her “General Manager Wang” or “Chairman Zhao”. Never call them by their names directly!
Many years ago, I visited one factory in a poor rural area of Hebei Province. The owner of this factory happened to be in a phone conversation with his customer when I walked in. I heard him introducing himself to his client over phone by stressing: ”Hello, I am General Manager Yang!”
Suppose you were about to visit a village in the countryside, and your old acquaintance Mr. Fang was the village-head of this place. Upon hearing the news that you were coming to visit his village, he would definitely feel happy and come forward to greet you upon your arrival. But at this moment, you must respectfully call him “Village-Head Fang”, not call him by his surname “Fang” or “Lao Fang” (Old Fang).
Do remember that an official’s title or rank in today’s China, no matter high or low, is always the necessary honor to mention! The inevitable vanity has become a common phenomenon throughout China.
When I recall how closely and equally I had been working together with our leaders at Radio Beijing in the 1970s, my heart is always filled with happiness and warmth. On the contrary, when I face the present realistic situation, I would feel heavy-hearted because I understand that the democratic situation was history now. People are nowadayspoker-faced. The official status becomes the sole judgment of a person’s social value. What a pity!
Professionalism & Continuous Improvement
I still remember that as journalists in the 1970s, we not only enjoyed the equality and democracy while working, but also fully concentrated our efforts and energy on our job duties. I do not want to repeat how Madam Wei, the most experienced veteran English announcer at our Department, displayed her announcing skills so amazingly. Neither should I mention how the broadcasting technique could be brought up to such a high level because of their professional ethics, which was displayed by two top announcers: Mr. Z. C. Wu and Mr. Z. J. Lin. Both Mr. Wu and Mr. Lin were overseas Chinese. The former was born in Jamaica, the latter came from Australia. Even though English was their mother tongue, they spent a lot of time everyday on practicing and further improving their English reading skills. In their minds, the diligence was a professional announcer’s basic requirement because Radio Beijing was shouldering the country’s responsibility for letting the outside world know China better.
But today I would like to use a bit more time describing how Mr. X. M. Chen, one of the best announcers at our English Department, kept on reading one word or one foreign name for who knows how many times. For your information, when we did announcing work, sometimes it was extremely difficult for us to read some foreigners’ names or foreign countries’ toponyms correctly because the local pronunciation did not match the English pronunciation rule. For instance, when we read the news or special reports about a certain country in Southeast Asia or in the Arabian world, sometimes we did face such an awkward situation. In other words, we might have to suffer from staccato in the process of reading the script. In order to guarantee a smooth broadcast session, Mr. Chen would not stop reading and practicing one difficult word or name until he could master it fluently and smoothly. If needed, Mr. Chen could keep on reading one word or name for over a hundred times just for the purpose of avoiding any slight negligence in his professional announcing. You must know the fact that Mr. Chen was a very experienced broadcaster who enjoyed a good reputation as a first-class announcer. Nevertheless, he was so devoted to his work, setting a good example for us all.
Our English Department had “Three Authoritative Seniors” whose names were Madam Jiang, GuiNong, Madam Mai, ShaoMei and Madam Zhang, QingNian.
Madam Jiang, over fifty years old, was an old-fashioned and inflexible lady who was serious in speech and manner. But she had a pair of sharp eyes that were perceptive of minutest details. She also had a pair of sensitive ears that could distinguish any slight pronouncing mistakes from the announcers’ on-the-spot reading or tape recording. None of any other people working at our Department could match Madam Jiang’s capability in this respect. This kind of “extrasensory perception and psychokinetic power” shown by this old lady gave us a lot of help and guaranteed our broadcasting quality. Madam Jiang was also a good English writer. I was told that after she retired, she worked together with her husband (another good English writer) and finished an English book which was named “Biography of Zhou Enlai” (Mr. Zhou Enlai was China’s most well-known and outstanding Premier who was regarded as the right arm of the late Chairman Mao Zedong). The book was one of the best sellers in the year when published in Beijing.
Another authoritative senior, Madam Mai Shaomei, was also worth mentioning.
Madam Mai, a skinny and over-fifty-year-old lady with a pair of glasses, had an obvious merit which was her perfect English written work. At our English Department, almost no other people could compare with her in terms of scripts writing and correction. Besides, she was an unselfish lady who was always ready to help others better their writing skills. And she also repeatedly advised her colleagues to concentrate while working, making sure that there would be no mistake in script-writing. She was a lady who deserved our great respect.
Last but not least, I must tell you a story about the third “Authoritative Senior” whose name was Zhang Qingnian.
Madam Zhang was the lady who went to England together with me for covering Chairman Hua Guofeng’s UK visit (See Chapter Fourteen: “Hua GuoFeng, A Low-Profiled National Leader”). This over-fifty-year-old lady was not only an outstanding reporter, but also a very good teacher, a “drama director” as well. She had profound English knowledge and intensive understanding towards the European and American literature, and was always ready to teach us how to fully express our feelings while we were reading scripts. She was an experienced “director” who would like to show us how to play radio dramas well (for your information, Radio Beijing sometimes did broadcast some drama programs with us announcers playing different roles for the drama). But the most unusual skill she could display was her English typing. You may not believe that she was so fast and accurate at typing that when you finished reading an article, she would end the entire content simultaneously. And you could hardly find any spelling mistakes in her typing. Madam Zhang’s typing skill was number one among all of us, unsurpassed at Radio Beijing.
Diligence & Responsibility Commitment
When needed by some important events or activities, we Radio Beijing people had very close cooperation with our fraternal unit — China Central TV station (in short, we called it CCTV. At that time, both CCTV and Radio Beijing were under the same jurisdiction of China Central Broadcasting Administration Bureau). Before the 8thAsian Games started in December of 1978, I was selected by the Radio Beijing Authorities to go to Bangkok in Thailand for covering the 8thAsian Games. As a bilingual reporter, I was asked not only to send English scripts or tapes back to Radio Beijing, but also write a few Chinese articles or reports that would be sent to China Central Broadcasting Station (another fraternal unit which was under China Central Administration Broadcasting Bureau) for their usage. After I got to Bangkok and was assigned to stay at a 5-star hotel which was named Ambassador Hotel, I found out that I was very lucky because I shared the same hotel floor with a very famous sports reporter from CCTV whose name was Song Shixiong.
In 1970s, Mr. Song’s name was known to almost all the Chinese regardless of age or gender. And he was regarded as China’s Number One sports commentator at that time. When he commentated on an international volleyball match (for your information, in late 1970s, China’s women volley ball team had become one of the best in the world, winning three world championships in 1980s), almost 90% sports fans all over the country were watching TV and following his excellent narration. People liked him a lot. I felt very excited upon hearing the news that I would be staying with this celebrity in the same hotel.
It was just because of the fact that Mr. Song’s room was next to mine, it made me possible to visit him frequently after we got to Bangkok (I came to know him long time ago, but I came to know him better only after we came to Bangkok for the 8thAsian Games covering). It was due to the fact that he was a Chinese reporter while I was an English correspondent and our common purpose was to cover the 8thAsian Games, he and I did need some cooperation in terms of the coverage of game activities by interviewing and reporting. To tell the truth, I did not know how Mr. Song would handle his narrating work before and after the games until one night I occasionally stepped into his room and had a long talk with him.
I said to him very frankly that as a very experienced and well-known reporter, it must be very easy for him to do his narration or presentation work. It would not be necessary for him to get preparation done in a very serious way (I thought that he was not like me because I was only a less-experienced reporter, I had to get all things ready beforehand). I believed that he must be a guy who would casually and freely report to the Chinese TV viewers on the 8thAsian Games Opening Ceremony by using his improvising talent on the spot. But to my surprise, Mr. Song’s answer was “No”.
Mr. Song told me that in order to do the Opening Ceremony reporting well, a few days ago prier to arriving in Bangkok, he visited the Chinese National Sports Committee (China’s highest government organization for managing all sports activities administration for the whole country) for an investigation. He talked to the concerned departments under the Committee just for the purpose of getting all needed information regarding the Asian games participating countries. For instance, he wanted to find out how many countries would send their sports delegation to the games, and which Asian top sportsmen or sportswomen would attend the Games, who would be the heads of those delegations so on and so forth. After Mr. Song got to Bangkok, he did not choose to have a good rest in the hotel room or immediately had a quick tour of the metropolitan (most of us did so). Instead, he made a full use of the time for visiting the 8thAsian Games Information Center to obtain more information on the participating countries as well as the sportsmen and sportswomen whom would be dispatched to Bangkok by those countries.
“Having gathered up all the information I need, I would have a ready plan in mind how to report the games from A to Z”, he said to me. “We must understand that to come to Thailand to deliver the 8thAsian Games reporting work is not at all our own personal affairs. We are representing our country, China. Whether or not we could do our reporting work well will mean a lot to our country’s image and reputation”, he went on. I was deeply moved after hearing what he had remarked to me. He was not only a hard-working journalist, but also a man who was conscientious of all the responsibility shouldered.
It was due to his good preparation taht he did an excellent job on the 8thAsian Games reporting and narrating, particularly on opening and closing ceremonies. When the Chinese TV spectators were watching the 8thAsian Games special programmes , no one could realize that Mr. Song, China’s Number One sports-cast reporter, had spent so much time and energy to do preparation work to fulfill his duty perfectly. Mr. Song’s hard-working spirit and his sense of responsibility taught me a lot.
Mr. Song was one of the typical diligent and devoted journalists in the 1970s. But when I watch the current sports-reporting industry and recall some “great actions” shown by some so-called famous sports-mediators, I can’t help feeling embarassed or disappointed.
For an example, a few years ago when an international soccer match was being held between Italy and the other country (I’m not mentioning this country’s name to show my respect.), the Italian team luckily got one goal. There was no doubt that it was good for the Italian team. But to all our TV viewers’ surprise, that well-known sports-cast reporter from CCTV suddenly shouted out a sentence of “Long live the Italian Soccer Team”! The guy forgot his position of being a third-party sports presenter, not supposed to be partial to Italy. The stupid act might cause bad consequences if the other country’s soccer team or their folks felt hurt. (Who knows? That country’s embassy in Beijing might even lodge a protest against CCTV or against the Chinese government).
Another example was that a noted sports presenter from CCTV got a nick-name of “Big Mouth”. He always talked rubbish while presenting sports programs. His extravagant and baseless talk sometimes made the TV viewers unable to understand what it was all about. From a journalist’s point of view, I do think that this “Big Mouth” never did any preparation work before he stepped into the TV studio. As a newsman, he was simply not responsible enough.
Incorruption & Simple Life
In China’s 1970s, our life was still poor. The country was neither rich nor advanced. As far as our English Department was concerned, all of us understood how to save the money for the country. In terms of the offices’ stationery and paper consumption, we tried our every best to practice conservation. For instance, we never bought complete ball pens from the market. We just purchased some ball-pan cores, which were much cheaper than brand new ball pens. If we wanted to make those ball-pen cores into finished pens, we must do a kind of “paper wrapping or rolling-up work”. We used some brown or white packing paper to wrap or roll over the ball-pen cores respectively. After several layers of paper were wrapped or rolled up, we would paste the wrapped ball-pen cores by glue. After all this was done, ball pens were “produced”. All the pens we used that time were turned out this way, with which we saved a lot of money for Radio Beijing.
When used only on one side, paper (except for the important documents or reserved scripts) would not be thrown into the dustbin. We would use the other side of the paper for the writing purpose. All these were not only for the aim of saving. As a matter of fact, Radio Beijing was one important national organization that was under the government direct jurisdiction. Financially, Radio Beijing was very strong. The true reason for doing so was a kind of habit. We called this habit as “Yan’an Spirit”. It was true that we, the people in China’s 1970s, were generally hard-working and thrifty. leadinga simple life. We did not run after any extravagant lifestyle. Of course, the relatively poor living condition did not allowvpeople to seek luxury and waste, either.
But things have been greatly changed since China adopted an open-door policy from early 1980’s onward. China’s economic reform had gained great achievements. Now the whole country is looking entirely different. Chinese people now love to enjoy luxurious lifestyle, and money seems to be the number one target for many. People no longer believe in communism or in Mao Zedong Thought, or in God. Quite a large percentage of Chinese people have no faith at all. They only want to earn more and more money. Look at nowadays’ journalist field: announcers working for CCTV or China Central Broadcasting Station or Radio Beijing enjoy a very high monthly pay. Besides, it is be very easy for them to earn big amount of extra money if they are invited by other companies or private rich families to moderate for company opening ceremonies or family birthday parties or weddings.
There is a very popular saying in China which is “Zou Xue”. “Zou Xue” means that singers, movie stars or TV or Radio presenters are invited to perform for moonlighting, earning extra salary income without having the approval from their regulat working unit. The Chinese government does not have control or constrain against this kind of illegal actions. As a result, the above-mentioned beneficiaries have easily become millionaires or even billionaires. Those people are so rich that they spend the money at random. I once read a story from the social network WeChat that a very famous veteran announcer who was regarded as one of the best narrators working for CCTV just retired several years ago. It was said that his private house is worth of RMB 100 million (roughly about USD14,700,000.00). Displayed inside his house are a lot of invaluable antiques, famous paintings and expensive Chinese calligraphy works, Those “good stuff” could easily add the value to another RMB 100 millions (another USD14,700,000.00). But he was only a CCTV announcer, paid a limited salary every year. How could he be so rich? Just imagine how much extra money this guy could earn before his retiremen by “Zou Xiu”.
I would like to say something again very unusual. In China, some young and pretty female journalists can use their beauty and “noble profession” (for your information, today in China, TV or radio announcing profession is regarded as a kind of “noble profession”) to earn extra money. Let me tell you something I personally experienced about ten years ago. At that time, I ran a commercial office in China as a Chief Representative for a big American whole-sale company. For many years, I had cultivated a habit of swimming in a hotel swimming pool every day to keep physically fit. One afternoon after my daily work, I got to a five-star hotel nearby for swimming (this hotel had an indoor swimming-pool). While I was waiting at the hotel elevator area to get to the top floor where the pool was available, I saw a very pretty young lady walking towards the same elevator area where I was standing at. And this beautiful young lady was gracefully walking up to the elevation area. She was surround by several “noble and dignified” gentlemen who were wearing decent suits with ties. The young lady looked like a “moon” which was being surrounded by all “stars”. I did not follow the girl into the elevator. After they got into the elevator, I asked one hotel service boy out of curiosity:“Who is this young lady? Why is she showing off so much?” The boy told me that she was a “famous” TV presenter working for TV Beijing. At the invitation by a very big and well-known private company boss, she was going to moderate at the wedding ceremony for the boss’s only daughter. The boy told me: “She has been staying at our hotel’s President Suit for more than 7 nights!” (She would stay at the hotel for at least 10 nights!). Upon hearing what the boy told me, I was totally shocked. This five–star hotel is a very expensive one with the tariff around RMB 8,000 per night (about USD 1,200) for the President Suite. The cost for this young lady’s already 7 nights’ stay would be already more than RMB 56,000 (USD 8,400). Besides, she would definitely get a decent pay for her job. I guessed that her service fee would be easily RMB 200, 000 to RMB 300,000, which were equivalent to USD 30,000 to 46,000. I was totally “subdued” by this young “counterpart” who seemed to be just little bit over twenty years old! How easy for her to earn such a big money just because of her beautiful face and “noble profession”!
I still feel warm-hearted when I recall how equal, assiduous, thrifty, hardworking and simple we were in the 1970s. And I feel frustrated at how high-profiled and money-seeking those “well-known” or “big” TV or radio presenters are at present! China has changed completely. China is entirely different now! What should I say to it?
Chapter Sixteen: An “Outlier” in Official Circles
I loved my English announcing job when I was working for Radio Beijing. But one thing frustrated me very much, that is my housing problem. During the 5-year period of my career, I only had a 14-sqaure-meter room to house my whole family members — my father, my wife, my two daughters and myself. Obviously, the space of such a small bedroom did not allow my father to have his own privacy. As a result, my father, an almost 80-year-old man, had to spend nights in a small room attached to my father-in-law’s house. Fortunately my father-in-law’s house was not far away from my own home. It took only about a 30-minute round-trip walking for my father every day.
In order to solve this housing problem, I tried very hard to talk to Radio Beijing authorities and request the leaders to provide me with a 3-bedroom or at least a 2-bedroom apartment. But all my efforts were in vain because the housing problem was a common difficult issue throughout the whole country at that time. Facing such a hopeless situation, I had no choice but said good-bye to Radio Beijing. The reason I dared to take the step was that a big state-owned enterprise promised to give me a 3-bedroom apartment. This could solve my housing problem completely. So I expressed my desire to be transferred from Radio Beijing to this company – China National Industrial Products Import & Export Corporation (in short, “Chinalight”).
In December, 1979, I succeeded in convincing Radio Beijing authorities to allow me to leave. I got transferred to Chinalight, a big state-owned company under the jurisdiction of China’s Ministry of Foreign Trade. The good thing was that it was not difficult for me to handle foreign trade business because I majored on international business when I was a university student. Full of confidence, I went to Chinalight and reported myself to the Company’s Human Resources Department. The Department assigned me to work for the Company’s Export Division NO. 2, My work position was a business coordinator who would coordinate with all the branch corporations concerned throughout the nation. I was also asked tosupervise all the provincial or municipality or autonomous regions branch corporations on their exporting of the Chinese leather goods such as bags, suitcases, work-gloves, dress-gloves, purses, wallets and key-cases. At that time, China’s main markets to import the above-mentioned products were USA and Europe.
After I began to work for Export Division NO. 2, I was told that there were two Division leaders. One was the Division Chief and the other was the Deputy Division Chief. But when my colleagues were chatting casually inside and outside our office, they always mentioned the name of another Division Chief whose name was HaoRan LI (I was very surprised to know that our Division was very special because we had two Division Chiefs. Usually, one Division only had one Division Chief plus one or more Deputy Division Chiefs). I was told that Mr. Li was staying at home for recovering from illness. From what the people talked about, I discovered that my colleagues often expressed their admiration for this Mr. Li’s super working capability. Meanwhile, they also expressed some dissatisfaction about this Division Chief’s “peculiar” behavior and “unordinary” remarks. I got the impression that Mr. Li was possibly an “outlier”, unfitting to the conventional official circles.
But an interesting thing was that all my colleagues went to visit this unusual Division Chief frequently, expressing their sincere concerns and good wishes to him, hoping him to have a speedy recovery and to be able to return to work as soon as possible. One day, Madam Huang, our office’s senior international trading expert who was in charge of the leather shoes business, went to see Mr. Li. After the visit, she came back to the office and walked up to me directly, saying that Division Chief Li already knew that I, an English announcer, was transferred from Radio Beijing to the Division. She said Mr. Li wanted me to go to see him as soon as possible. She wrote down Mr. Li’s home address and gave it to me. Surprised, I decided to visit this unusual Division Chief at the next possible chance.
On one Saturday afternoon, I went to Mr. Li’s home and knocked the door. Mr. Li opened the door himself. After listening to my self-introduction, Mr. Li politely invited me to come in. I realized that neither his wife nor his son was at home that day. While shaking hands with him, I had a quick glance at this gentleman: He was a fair-complexioned, handsome man in his early forties. Wearing a pair of metal-rimmed glasses, he looked gentle and elegant. His appearance suggested to me that he must be a grand intellectual.
Mr. Li gestured me to sit down. Both seated, he used the thumb and index fingers of his right hand to pull out a piece of cigarette. While offering the cigarette to me, he asked me if I was a smoker. I nodded my head and said “yes” (I did not quit smoking until a few years later). Mr. Li suddenly asked me if I would be bold enough to smoke the cigarette he had touched with his fingers. Seeing me feeling a bit confused, he explained that he was a patient suffering from hepatitis B virus (HBV), which is infectious.
To be honest, I was really confused or even shocked upon hearing what he said for a moment. But I came back to myself quickly. I knew this Division Chief was somehow testing me to see if I, as a new subordinate under him, would be following his orders. He wanted to know if I would be loyal to him.
Without any hesitation, I took the cigarette from him. But at the same time, I said to myself: “No virus or bacterium on earth can bear the fire-burning”. Filter cigarettes were not popular yet in China in the 1970s and 1980s. The cigarette Mr. Li gave to me was a filter-free one. I lit the cigarette on the end touched by his fingers, thinking: “It is absolutely safe for me to smoke this piece of cigarette!”
Seeing me naturally and happily accepting and smoking the cigarette, Mr. Li smiled faintly. And then he stood up and went to the kitchen. Back to the table, he brought a bowl and a spoon with him. Putting the bowl and the spoon on the table, Mr. Li said to me: “This is a bowl of iced green-bean soup. And the iced green-bean soup is really a delicacy in the summer season. The soup was prepared by myself and specially made for you. Do you dare to eat it?” He wanted to remind me again that he was a hepatitis patient. Before I had any time or chance to speak, he went on to say: “Please be reassured that both the bowl and the spoon were sterilized. The soup is also clean and safe.” Clearly this unusual Division Chief was trying to test my sincerity again! Without saying anything, I took the bowl and finished the soup completely.
Making sure that I did not avoid or dislike what he offered, Mr. Li felt relaxed and satisfied. He openly said to me: “You are a guy who deserves my trust, and I take you as my friend. After I’m fully recovered, I’ll go back to work. You will be my trusted subordinate.” What an “outlier”! It was only the first time for him and me to meet, and he already dared to declare blatantly that he would take me, a new comer, as his sworn follower.
A few months later, Mr. Li’s HBV was under control and he was allowed to come back to work. One afternoon, Mr. Li was going to meet with a Hong Kong Trade Delegation for business negotiations. He purposefully asked me to be with him for the meeting. After the business meeting was over, the head of the Hong Kong Trade Delegation earnestly presented Mr. Li gifts of four ball-pens with the brand name of Park. In China’s late 1970s and early 1980s, the Park brand ball-pens were very valuable and expensive. Four of such ball-pens were considered very precious gifts. According to the Company’s related rules and regulations, any gifts which were given to us by foreign businessmen (including Hong Kong and Macau business people) must be handed over to the Company’s Administrating Office. To keep gifts privately was not allowed, regarded as going against the Company’s “law”. But our Division Chief Li did not care about the “law” at all. He decided to handle this matter in his own way. In other words, he put all four Park ball-pens into his own pocket.
On the following day, Mr. Li asked Madam Huang (who was in charge of leather shoes business), Madam Liu (who was handling footwear business except for leather shoes) and me (who was doing coordination work on leather gloves, hand bags and small leather goods) to his office. After three of us stepped into his room, Mr. Li closed the door immediately, and then asked us to sit down. Then he said to us: “Yesterday, I got four good ball-pens which were gifts given by a Hong Kong Trade Delegation. As I am the Division Chief, I should take one ball-pen for my own usage. And each of you three will also get one ball-pen.” Finding out that we three people were all feeling confused, he went on to say: “The reason why each of you three deserve to be rewarded with such a good ball-pen is that you are all backbones of our Division. Please regard the ball-pen as a kind of encouragement!”
Almost a month time had passed since this ball-pen event took place. One day, my curiosity pushed me to ask Mr. Li why he did not hand over the ball-pens to the Administration Office as per the Company’s rule? To my surprise, he said to me in a straightforward manner: “Do you really believe that the people working for the Administration Office are honest and incorruptible in performing their office duties? We should use those ball-pens ourselves rather than giving them to the Administrating Office. You must understand that the Hong Kong Trade Delegation gave us the gifts for the business sake because they want to develop the business with us. The ball-pens have nothing to do with those who are working for the Administrating Office”. Even though I did not think what Mr. Li explained was really convincing and “there might be something wrong”, I admired this “outlier” for his being so bold and presumptuous.
Another time, an American Trade Delegation came to visit us for a business talk. After the meeting was over, Mr. Li, the Division Chief, arranged a banquet at a famous roasted duck restaurant to entertain the guests. Quite a few people from both sides were participating the banquet. After the banquet was over and the American guests left for their hotel, we were also about to leave the restaurant. Just at that moment, we realized that there was still one bottle of unopened red wine on the table. Mr. Li immediately stretched out his right arm and took the bottle, putting it into his briefcase while saying to us: “I want to have this bottle of wine. Even though my doctor does not allow me to drink, I do like this famous wine.” This “wine possessing” matter caused some of my colleagues to whisper in private that “Mr. Li is selfish”, “Mr. Li likes to take petty advantage.” But I had a different understanding to the matter. I felt that at the moment of seeing that bottle of good wine, actually none of us wanted to lose the chance of possessing it. But none of us dared to confront Mr. Li, who as our boss was such a mighty Division Chief. I felt Mr. Li was a straightforward man with courage. At least he was not a hypocrite.
There were even more interesting happenings like the calendar issue. Once, the company decided to give us employees hanging calendars for the wall as New Year’s gift at the end of a calendar year (I do not remember which year it was). According to the rule, each of us could get one calendar. In the early 1980s, those calendars were rare gifts loved by us all. Since China had already started the economic reform and adopted an open-door policy, the contents for those calendars were no longer Chairman Mao Zedong’s portraits or revolutionary heroes. Instead, classical and/or modern beauties became the poster figures on each month’s calendar page. A look at the calendar posters, those beautiful girls or ladies would already gladden your eyes. But two “Confucian moralists” in our office reacted to the beauty calendar in a strange way. On one hand, they seemed to like the calendar girls a lot because they were throwing glances at the calendar again and again. On the other hand, they put on a long face and made loud remarks: “Why are pretty movie stars and classical beauties, not revolutionary heroes, on the calendar? It is too vulgar! It lacks the revolutionary spirit!” Coincidentally, Division Chief Li was passing our office door to his room. Upon hearing what the two “moralists” said, he stepped into our office and said to them: “You guys do not like beauties? But I don’t believe any man would dislike beautiful and charming girls. If you really do not like those pictures of movie stars and classical beauties, you can give up taking the calendar as the gift.” Hearing Mr. Li’s words, the two people simply lowered their heads without any reply.
In the early 1980s, the so-called “ultra-leftist ideology” was not yet abolished. It was rare and peculiar for a high-ranking official like Mr. Li to openly declare that he liked beautiful girls and pretty ladies. From the bottom of my heart, I admired this gentleman’s boldness.
Division Chief Li was not only an honest, straightforward and unfeigned man, but also a capable and experienced “trading master”. Before he was transferred to Chinalight, he used to be the Chief Secretary of Mr. Renmin LEI, the former minister of Foreign Trade Ministry. When Mr. Li worked for the Ministry, he was well-known for his talents of writing good reports and articles. He was even taken by his colleagues as a “gifted scholar” in the foreign trade field. After he became the Division Chief working for Chinalight, he displayed his extraordinary ability of handling international business. His excellent work performances were praised and rewarded several times by both Chinalight and the Foreign Trade Ministry Authorities. But such an outstanding senior official was not very respected by all his colleagues. His character somehow boasted of self-isteem and insolence. His distinctive speech and deportment were often criticized by some of his colleagues and even by same-leveled officials. Even if they did not dare to go openly against him, they gossiped behind his back. Those irresponsible talks sometimes harmed Mr. Li’s reputation, when reaching the ears of the VIPs at Chinalight Authority. I guess that was the reason why Mr. Li had been staying at his Division Chief position for many years without being further promoted. Finally, Mr. Li lost his patience for continuing to work for Chinalight as a Division Chief only. He said good-bye to the company, and got transferred to another large China national company—China National Silk Products Import & Export Corporation (in short, “Chinasilk”) to start his new work career. Chinasilk appointed Mr. Li as a Vice-President, the title of which was higher than Division Chief. He got promoted! Chinasilk and Chinalight were of the same level and both of them were under the direct jurisdiction of the Foreign Trade Ministry.
After Mr. Li joined Chinasilk, he again fully displayed his brilliant working talents and did a great job. Two years later, the Ministry of Foreign Trade sent Mr. Li to the Chinese Embassy in London, England, working as the Commercial Counselor at the Embassy, as well as the Counselor for the European Union (EU). His official title became even higher than a Vice President. After a few years of working in London, Mr. Li returned to China. The Foreign Trade Ministry appointed him as the Director of Foreign Trade Administration Bureau, which was one of the most important organizations inside the Ministry. The Director of this Bureau was a very powerful leading official because he controlled the whole country’s import and export quota. Without obtaining quotas, no companies under China’s provinces, municipalities or autonomous regions could import or export any specially restricted products. Without Mr. Li’s “green-light turning-on”, no one could get any quota from the Ministry. By this time, Mr. Li reached the summit of his career!
In this world, nothing could be perfect in every respect. Mr. Li was having a brilliant career and he ought to be extremely proud of himself. Yet in reality, Mr. Li also had his own headaches. For a long time, he had been suffering from his marriage problem. Without knowing the real cause of this bitterness, the people around Mr. Li only felt that he did not have a good or normal relation with his wife. For many years, the couple had been quarreling and were even hostile to each other. Finally, Mr. Li and his wife decided to separate.
I still remember that one year when I was still working for Chinalight (at that time, I was President of Amicell Inc., an American company as well as an over-seas branch office under Chinalight. Our main business was to buy the paper and paper pulp from the USA and Canada, and to export them to China), I traveled from New York to London for an international paper and paper pulp conference. When the meeting was over, I paid a special visit to Mr. Li at the Chinese Embassy in London. Since he and I were already old friends (even though I was his subordinate), Mr. Li invited me to his official residence for a talk. On that day, his wife, Madam Lu, was not at the Embassy. After I entered into his huge and luxurious bedroom, I found out a very strange phenomenon: two separate single beds were placed respectively on both sides of the room. Out of my curiosity, I asked Mr. Li why. It was only by that time that Mr. Li began to tell me that the relation between him and his wife were not harmonious. They did not love each other at all. After hearing what he told me, I frankly asked why he still kept the marriage status if their marital relationship was so bad, why they didn’t get divorced to allow both to enjoy complete freedom. But to my surprise, Mr. Li gave me a different opinion. Helplessly, he said to me: “I am a veteran communist as well as a high-ranking official. If I get divorced from my wife, I would be definitely scolded and criticized by the public opinion. People surrounding me would regard me as an ‘unfaithful husband’. I can not cut off marriage relationship with my wife no matter how hard my family life is!” Hearing what he said, I had no other choice but kept silence.
Mr. Li and I have always maintained good relations no matter whether he was a high-ranking diplomat abroad, or he was a powerful director at the Foreign Trade Ministry. We were not in the same city or even in the same country for many years. We did not see each other for years after I was sent by Chinalight to the USA to work there. But we did have communications from time to time either by phone or fax or even mails (in 1980s, no email or WeChat facilities were available). This kind of friendship lasted for many years. It is just like what a Chinese saying goes: “Friendship between real gentlemen is as pure as water”.
A few more years later, an old colleague of mine came to the USA for a business trip. A good friend of mine when I worked for Chinalight, he particularly came to see me after his business visit was done. I entertained him with a dinner while enjoying a casual talk with each other. Since he was also a high-ranking official who used to be working together with Mr. Li in Chinalight, I purposefully asked him if he had any news about Mr. Li, the former Division Chief of Chinalight. The unexpected news he brought to me was totally shocking. He told me an incident. Once Mr. Li, the Director of the Foreign Trade Administration Bureau, visited Suzhou City in Jiangsu Province. His mission was to inspect and supervise how the local companies or departments were using the import and export quota. After finishing that day’s hard work, Mr. Li went back to his hotel. He obviously over-worked to the extent that his health condition could not bear it any more. At that night, he died of complication with HBV (hepatitis B virus) and some other medical symptoms in his hotel room.
I couldn’t help feeling the surge of an extreme sadness upon hearing this terrible news. After the guest left, I called Mr. Li’s home phone number and reached Madam Lu, Mr. Li’s wife. Over the phone conversation, I expressed my deep condolence to Mr. Li, an “outlier” in the eyes of many people around him, a brilliant and courageous man in my eyes! May Mr. Li’s soul be in peace forever!
An Indissoluble Bond with “Deng, His Excellency”
When the appellation of “Deng, His Excellency” was mentioned, people might automatically think that this must be referred to Mr. Deng, Xiaoping, the former Chairman of the Central Military Committee of the People’s Republic of China, who made China march forward on the road of “Economy-Reforming & Door-Opening”. But “Deng, His Excellency” I mentioned here has nothing to do with Mr. Deng, Xiaoping. This “Deng, His Excellency” was particularly referred to Mr. Deng, Fangyang, a native farmer entrepreneur as well as an unforgettable friend of mine.
Please allow me to take you back to early 1980s when China was just about to open the door to the outside world and start the great action of “Economic Reform”.
Like all other state-owned companies under the Ministry of Foreign Trade, China National Light Industrial Products Import & Export Corporation (Chinalight in Short) had also realized that there were a lot of malpractices in the Company’s management. For many years, Chinalight had been monopolizing the whole nation’s import & export business of light industrial products, and following the government policy of “planned economy”. The facts proved that the existing traditional ways of business handling were really conservative and inflexible, which would no longer benefit the further development of the Company’s import and export business. It seemed that effective measures of “keeping up with times and seeking the change and innovation” must be adopted. Thus, a new policy soon came into being: the state-owned companies would be allowed to have joint operations with the private or individualized enterprises or factories in the rural areas of China. The purpose of doing so was to enable both the national trading companies and the private manufacturing factories to promote production in order to gain maximum economic profits.
As the Deputy General Manager of Export Division No. 2 under Chinalight, I was a powerful person who had the right to dispose a huge amount of money. And our division’s financial assistance to any branch companies or factories would play a very important role in developing their designated light industrial products. But the situation at that time was that Chinalight’s Export Division No. 2 administrated over 50 branch corporations at different provincial, municipal and autonomous regions levels. And those branch corporations relied on over several hundred factories for making and exporting the related light industrial products. As per the Company’s new policy, it would be necessary for our Division to set up joint-venture operations with some of those factories. And it was impossible for our Division to give all those factories financial supports. The only way our division could follow was to select a few really outstanding and promising factories as pioneers.
After careful consideration, I decided to choose only three good factories for our joint venture projects. The three factories were respectively from the three Provincial Branch Corporations in Jiangxi, Fujian and Jiangsu. The detailed plan was that Export Division No. 2 was going to invest a certain amount of money to each factory plus issuing them additional but reasonable export quotas (for your information, the products manufactured for exports bythose three factories needed export quotas and I was back then the decisive person to approve the quota issuing). The related factories, on the other hand, were responsible for improving management levels and make enough quality products with economic efficiency. By so doing, both Export Division No. 2 (the Trading Party) and the related factories (the Manufacturing Parties) hoped for mutual benefits.
In terms of the joint-venture actions, I won’t go to details about the two factories located in Jaingxi and Fujian Provinces. I just want to tell you how I selected one factory which was situated in Xieqiao Town, Jiangdu County, of Yangzhou City in Jiangsu Province. I must admit that I did not make the decision easily or casually. As a matter of fact, I read and checked the list of over 10 candidate factories very seriously. The list was presented to me by the Authorities of Jaingsu Light Industrial Products Import & Export Corporation. Prior to my final decision and approval, the whole members of our Division No. 2 had several rounds of collective discussions. You might ask me out of curiosity: “Why did you choose this factory in Jiangsu Province instead of the other two for a joint-venture? Was this factory strong in finance? Or was it really big in scale?” But I’ll have to tell you that this factory was neither strong nor big. It was indeed a small factory.
Some people who have the knowledge towards my family background might then say this to me: “It was natural for you to choose a factory in your hometown for such a joint-venture. Jiangdu County is your native place. Both your Father and Grandfather were born in Putou Town there!” Yes, Putou Town is a place about ten kilometers away from Xieqiao Town where that selected factory was located. But I must tell them that they were totally wrong. I selected this factory as a joint-venture partner because of one person, the Factory Director, Mr. Deng Fangyang.
Mr. Deng was over forty years old. He was not tall, but had an intelligent and capable look. His factory was once very weak in both production capability and sales possibility. In order to make his factory grow fast, Mr. Deng worked very hard and tried all possible means to promote the business. In order to open up the market for the factory’s products, he decided to try his luck in the big city of Xi’an, which was and still is the Capital City of Shanxi Province.
Before he started this long journey, he told his wife to prepare several kilograms of fried flour and a big tank of cold boiled water. After both food and water were ready, Mr. Deng used a long and strong rope to tie them, plus some products samples, to the rack of his heavy-duty bike. Then he rode on the bike and set out from his home village at Xieqiao Town of Jiangdu County in JiangSu Province (South Eastern China) to Xi’an City in Shanxi Province (Northern China), a distance of over 1,300 kilometers.
On his way to Xi’an City, he ate dry fried flour and drank a few mouthful of cold water when feeling hungry and thirsty. When evenings arrived, he had to either lodge at farmers’ homes by asking for a favor or spent nights in the cheapest hotels around. After about three week’s bike-riding, he finally reached the destination. And then he started to visit all possible customers one by one. It was due to his strong will and unyielding persistence that the sales channels were opened up. Consequentially, his factory made rapid increase in both manufacturing and sales, and continued to develop healthily.
I was deeply touched at hearing how Mr. Deng had handled his business. It was nothing but his pioneering spirit which made me decide on choosing his factory as a joint-venture partner.
After several hundred thousand RMB (RenMinBi, meaning Chinese Yen) were wired to this factory, the joint-venture project between the factory and our Export Division No. 2 began. Just at that moment, a couple of colleagues of mine warned me kindly: “Several thousand hundred RMB is not a small amount of money. How can you trust a farmer factory director so much when you have only met with him two or three times? You must know that this small factory is in need of money badly. We are afraid that your relationship with this factory director might be a one-way street, and you should not expect him to do you any favor in return!” But I did believe my own “Sixth Sense” and was not influenced by my colleagues’ words. With confidence, I said to myself: This factory will not let me down! Mr. Deng is an honest guy!
As expected, Mr. Deng did not disappoint me. After two years’ hard work and proper management, the joint-venture factory had made great achievements. It had not only enlarged its production capability and factory scale, but also gained remarkable profits. As a result, this joint-venture factory had become one of the leading enterprises in not only Jiangdu, where the factory was situated, but also Yangzhou, to which Jiangdu belonged. One year later, this factory made further developments and became a “Star Enterprise”, well-known throughout the whole Province of Jiangsu. Mr. Deng Fangyang, the Factory Director, had also been successively honored as “Model Worker”, “Advanced Factory Director” and “Outstanding Entrepreneur”. He was one of the most famous celebrities in Yangzhou area as well as in Jiangsu Province. From that time on, people around him no longer called him “Mr. Deng”, Lao Deng (old Deng) or “Director Deng”. They jokingly called him “Deng, His Excellency”, showing their sincere respect to this real VIP. Since the factory was really strong and profitable, our Export Division No. 2, the investor, got substantial economic returns. What was more, “Deng, His Excellency” became my private good friend.
According to that time’s rules and regulations, the leading personnel of the state-owned companies were not supposed to establish any personal relationship with owners of private or individualized factories or enterprises while they were still the cooperative partners. If such private relationship were established, there wound be suspicion that the state-owned company’s leading personnel and the private factory directors have some “secret” or “under-table” deals. But I did not care about it at all because I was sure that my personal relationship with “Deng, His Excellency” was open and unperturbed, and I would be afraid of nothing. Besides, I firmly believed that “Deng, His Excellency” was a decent man who would not use money to corrupt me. The fact was that when we met each other, the only thing we did together was to talk about the current work progress and to think of the future plan. We did have mutual entertainments like having meals at restaurants or cups of tea at tea-houses sometimes. But our common interest was always on the topics of “how to enhance the mutual cooperation” and on “how to further develop the factory’s productivity and gain more profits for both Parties”.
Of course, “Deng, His Excellency” was a man of courtesy. Each time he came to Beijing to visit me and my colleagues, he would always bring with him some gifts, usually special local products, such as dried mushrooms, dried black fungus, preserved or salted eggs, so on and so forth. Those meaningful and inexpensive gifts were regarded as the symbol of true friendship between him and my colleagues and me myself. Therefore, we always accepted those gifts naturally and happily.
The further development of China’s Economy Reform gave “Deng, His Excellency” more space and opportunities. And he and his factory succeeded in manufacturing a few new products for export. With time passing by, Mr. Deng’s business was growing better and better, and “Deng, His Excellency” had become a really big boss in name and in fact.
It was just at the time when our joint venture work was gaining momentum, Chinalight Head Office decided to send me to New York, USA for being the President of the Company’s American Overseas Branch Corporation. That meant that I would no longer be responsible for the joint-venture project. In other words, my working relations with Mr. Deng and his factory completely ended. From a realistic perspective, Mr. Deng’s “Business Kingdom” had already been established and Deng would no longer need my further help and support. It would be only natural and simple for him to just say good-bye to me gracefully and then cut off all relations with me. As a matter of fact, most of the Chinese private owners did do so by such situations. But “Deng, His Excellency” was a man who kept in his heart a famous Chinese saying of “the most great action is that you repay others for their kindness when you have got the ability”. He even said to my colleagues when he went to Beijing for a joint-venture meeting that as a human, he has conscience and will always be grateful to those who once helped him and his factory.
Instead of leaving me alone, he purposefully enhanced his relation with me. Whenever he deemed it necessary for going to Beijing either for work meetings with the people concerned at Export Division No. 2 or for attending any light industrial products export commodity fairs, the first thing he did was to get information on whether I would be in Beijing that period of time. If yes, he would immediately buy a bus ticket and left his hometown of Jiangdu for the city of Nanjing, capital city of Jiangsu Province. From there he would take the train to Beijing. Before going to Chinalight Head Office for meetings, he would come to my house to visit me first. inviting me to have lunch or dinner at a restaurant close to my home. He would order several outstanding dishes plus a pot of green tea. We would then chat with each other happily while enjoying our dishes, sometimes very simple ones. The goal was the talk, not the food and the topics were wide-ranged, from our respective routine work to private and family affairs such as children’s education, the health condition and even his village issues. Since there were no business connections between him and me, we could talk with each other freely. Whenever the meal was over, Mr. Deng would manage to pay the bill (never letting me pay). He always went to Chinalight Head Office for meeting people at Export Division No. 2 after our private meeting.
When there was an important traditional Chinese holiday or festival, like the Dragon Boat Festival, the Moon Festival or the Spring Festival but I was abroad, Mr. Deng would ask anyone who would go to Beijing for a visit (no matter whether he or she was from his factory or even from his neighboring factories) to bring some gifts purchased by Mr. Deng himself to Beijing. He would tell the traveler that those gifts, usually Jiangdu County’s native products, must be delivered to my house for my wife or my father who was living in Beijing with us. Those gifts, not necessarily expensive, meant a lot to me and to my family. They showed the sincerity and amicability of “Deng, His Excellency” to his old friends.
With the change of the times, the practice of gift-giving was in vogue in mid of 1980s. By that time, “Deng, His Excellency” was not only a capable factory director who could handle the management skills well, but also an “intellectual” who was interested in and knowledgeable towards the Chinese traditional painting and calligraphy. Upon hearing the news that I would soon get back to Beijing for business, Mr. Deng sometimes went to visit a few famous painters or calligraphers in Jiangsu Province to select and buy some good paintings or calligraphy works from them. I remember him coming to my home and my office, solemnly presenting those art works to me as gifts. Mr. Deng had the habit that before paying for those paintings and/or calligraphies, he would usually let the painters and calligraphers put the following Chinese characters on the art works: “Mr. Gong Ruzhong is kindly asked to take this piece of painting (or calligraphy) for appreciation”. His sincere intention moved me greatly. Those paintings and calligraphies have been wonderful treasures well-kept by me. Whenever I take out those valuable treasurers for appreciation, I feel as if this honest and sincere man were just standing in front of me with his distinct friendly smile.
It was due to the fact that my hometown is Putou in Jiangdu County, Jiangsu Province, that I occasionally go to my home village to pay respect to my Dad and Mom, because where their tombs are there. I can also visit my aunt, wife of my father’s eldest brother who passed away long time ago. Whenever I decided to go to Jiangdu County for visiting my Aunt and paying respect to my deceased parents at their tombs, “Deng, His Excellency” was always there to help me.
Usually, he and his nephew Mr. Deng Tinghu who was also the factory’s Deputy factory director, would go to Nanjing Airport to pick me up. And then Mr. Deng Tinghu would drive me directly to my home village. Both Mr. Deng and his nephew would accompany me from A to Z when I had such visits. After my mission was completed, they would invite me to the joint-venture factory for a factory tour (even though I was no longer the joint-venture partner), then invite me to lunch or dinner at the factory’s “special canteen” (a small dining-room specially used for entertaining distinguished guests). They were also so kind as to drive me back to Nanjing Airport by car (I had to fly from NanJing to Beijing since no airport was available at either Yangzhou or Jiangdu in 1980s and 1990s. But now an airport is available in Yangzhou).
Something which moved me even more was that my natural mother was living in Shanghai (please read “Chapter One: Fate Transformation” which describes how I was born in the Chen Family and then be given to the Gong Family three days after I was born). When she was alive, “Deng, His Excellency” gave her a lot of help. I was told by my natural mother that one time, she told Mr. Deng (when Deng visited my mother, they had a casual talk) that her eyesight was becoming poor with the time. And she could not see the clock time clearly since the clock available at home was too small. After hearing that, Mr. Deng did not say anything. But a few days later when I called my Mom for a routine greeting, she excitedly told me over phone: “Mr. Deng asked his driver to send me a big wall clock a couple of days ago. Now I can read the time very clearly!”
Another time when “Deng, His Excellency” visited my mom, my natural elder-brother, Mr. Chen Chuande, was also at home. In order to let my mom pass her old years happily, my elder brother wanted to buy her a color TV. But at that time, it was difficult for the Chinese people to get such a kind of valuable electrical appliance. A “Color TV Purchase Coupon” was needed. Without such a coupon, my elder brother would not be able to buy a color TV for my Mom. In view of the fact that Mr. Deng was a VIP who had excellent social connections, my elder brother asked him if he could get such a coupon.
After listening to what my elder brother said, Mr. Deng promised to have a try. Almost one month passed without a reply from “Deng, His Excellency”. Naturally, neither of my mom nor my elder brother was expecting to get a color TV coupon from Mr. Deng. But then, one more week later, Mr. Deng’s driver came to my mom’s house and brought my mom a new color TV. The driver presented the TV to my mom, saying: “My boss asked me to bring this new color TV to you”. My mom and brother were overjoyed.
Upon hearing this piece of news, I immediately called Mr. Deng Tinghu, nephew of “Deng, His Excellency” to ask for reasons. Tinghu told me that even though his uncle tried very hard to get a Color-TV Purchase Coupon, his efforts were in vain because it was simply too difficult. Finally “Deng, His Excellency” went to his elder son’s place and took the color TV from his son’s house. That color TV was bought by Mr. Deng and given to his elder son as a wedding gift. The wedding ceremony did not start yet, but the wedding gift of such a valuable color TV was already taken away from his son, the groom-to-be! As per Tinghu, while taking this TV set out, Mr. Deng even imperatively said to the groom: “The mother of Mr. Gong, the division chief, needs this TV. I must give it to the lady. You just try to get a coupon first and I will then pay for the TV purchasing”.
After listening to what Tingfu told me, mixed feelings surged up in me immediately. I really did not know what I should say to my good friend “Deng, His Excellency”. A color TV was expensive, but the true feelings and friendship expressed by Mr. Deng was just priceless! I was no longer the partner of his factory. What he did for me would not be repaid.
Several years later, a piece of bad news came to me: “Deng, His Excellency” got ill unfortunately and suffered from diabetes mellitus. The nasty disease of senile dementia began to attack him terribly a couple of years after that. As a result, “Deng, His Excellency” gradually lost his memory. I was told that one time he left home and had a walk in the village. He was so confused after the walk that he could not remember how to get back home. Fortunately, one of his villagers found him and accompanied him home.
One thing was though very “strange”. Every time I went back to my hometown for a visit, I always met with Mr. Deng. Even if he suffered from poor memory, he always immediately became alert and normal at seeing me, his long-time partner and old friend. He could clearly recount to his colleagues and me how he and I worked together to make the factory so strong and profitable. He remembered all details about what he and I did in those old days. What a surprise!
Time flies. Another couple of years passed and the fatal news reached me: “Deng, His Excellency” passed away. I felt extremely painful. I lost my good friend forever! An unforgettable friend, Mr. Deng Fangyang.
Mr. Deng Bochun, the second son of “Deng, His Excellency”, continues the existing relationship with me since he believes I was his Father’s devoted friend. Up to today, Mr. Deng Bochun plus all members of Deng family, are still on very good and friendly terms with me. Mr. Deng, Bochun is an elite in the financial industry. Besides, he is an outstanding Chinese calligrapher who has profound art attainments. Probably inherited from his father’s excellent gene, Mr. Deng BcChun is also a man of honesty, capability and sincerity.
When I go back to my hometown of Jiangdu, it is always he who drives me around. Like what his father did, Mr. Deng Bochun will drive his car to either Nanjing or Yangzhou Airport (a new airport in Yangzhou City was established years ago) to pick me up and drive me to Jiangdu County. As per my request, I first go to his Father’s tomb which is located at the downtown area of Jiangdu County. I show my respect to “Deng, His Excellency” at his tomb by presenting some offerings of fruits, food and round decorated cakes (all those offerings are prepared by Mr. Deng Bochun). Following the local custom, both Mr. Deng Bochun and I will burn some paper money and incense in front of Mr. Deng Fangyang’s tomb. I usually take the chance to talk to my old friend for a while. At such moments, Mr. Deng Bochun always stands on the left side of his father’s tomb and bows to me from time to time, showing his respect and thanks to me.
After that, Mr. Deng Bochun will drive me to my parents’ tombs. There I will do the worship ceremony according to the local tradition. Year after year, this kind of practice is lasting. I hope with my whole heart that the close relationship between Deng family and me will be long-lasting…
Frightening Experience At New York’s World Trade Center
The date of Sep. 11 (911) is well-known not only in the United States of America, but also to the whole world. On the day of Sep. 11, 2001, New York’s World Trade Center was brutally attacked by the terrorists. As a result, this magnificent architectural complex were completely destroyed. But few people know or still remember that as early as on Feb. 26, 1993, this famous World Trade Center had already been attacked by the terrorists, and I myself was the witness, as well as one of the victims who was almost killed when that disaster occurred.
It was a very cold winter day, and from the early morning on, snowflakes had been falling from sky. As the Company’s President, I was doing my daily routine work in my office. The Company I worked for at that time was located on the 23rdfloor, Tower One of World Trade Center in New York City. While Mr. X.Z. Chen, Manager of the Company’s Animal By-Products Department, was accompanying a trade delegation from Shanghai Native Produce & Animal By-Products Imp. & Exp. Corp. for a scheduled visit to one of our important casing (for sausages) buyers. Madam J.Y Meng, Company’s Vice-President, was burying herself in drafting an urgent document in her office. The atmosphere inside our Company offices was as usual, peaceful and normal.
A couple of hours later, I looked at my wristwatch. It was already 11:40 am, 20 minutes to 12:00 noon. I immediately rose up from my chair and walked into Madam Meng’s office to tell her that it was the time for us to leave for Chinatown, which was not far away from the World Trade Center, since we planned to entertain our Shanghai guests at 12:00 sharp. I also said to Madam Meng that Mr. Chen must be escorting the trade delegates of Shanghai Native Produce & Animal By-Products Imp. & Exp. Corp. to a restaurant in Chinatown. It would be impolite if we were to arrive at the restaurant later than the guests.
Madam Meng followed my instruction and got up from her chair and was about to leave the office with me. And suddenly the telephone on Madam Meng’s desk began ringing, Madam Meng had to go back to her desk to pick up the phone. A glimmer of displeasure rose up from my heart and I said to myself:“This is really not a suitable time for this incoming phone call because we were hosting lunch to entertain the distinguished guests soon. It will be very impolite if we get to the restaurant late”.
Just at the moment when I was complaining about this phone call, a huge dull-thundering sound suddenly uttered and then the whole office was shaking like an earthquake! Cups and some stationaries felt from the desks down to the floor. Madam Meng, who was in the middle of telephone conversation, cried out in fear and subconsciously threw the telephone away. I did not know what had happened but I guessed it must be sort of explosion of the building’s huge transformer. Under such circumstances, Madam Meng and I quickly left the office and locked the door behind us. We walked to the elevator area. It was a foolish action for both Madam Meng and me to get into the elevator when an accident occurred because that would be very dangerous should the electricity supply stop during the descending. But we were so lucky that day, as soon as we stepped into the elevator and the door was closed, the elevator door suddenly re-opened by itself. We immediately ran out of the elevator and chose the stairway.
It was at that very moment when I heard a hubbub of voices coming from the scared crowed people who worked in the offices on the same floor. They also ran out of their offices because of this explosion. I asked a man who seemed to know something about what had happened. He told me that a powerful explosion occurred on Basement 2 of Tower One (for your information, the World Trade Center Complex was mainly composed of two high buildings of Tower One and Tower Two, which looked like two “Sister Buildings”. And Basement 2 was used as a car parking garage which was open to the public at that time). At that time, no one was aware of the fact that this explosion was caused by a very serious terrorist attack.
After hearing what this gentleman told us, both Madam Meng and I felt we were really lucky. Before the attack occurred a few minutes ago, Madam Meng and I planned to go to the car garage on Basement 2 of Tower One where our car was parked. And then I would drive the car to Chinatown to entertain our guests. It was the telephone call that saved our lives because the explosion did occur at the place where our car was parked. Now we were lucky enough to join the crowd of people escaping from the 23rdfloor all the way down to the ground floor. We managed to get out of the building at the exit gate of Tower One safely!
When we were stepping down from one floor to another, the rolling smoke, which was caused by the explosion, kept on coming towards us. It was obvious that the smoke came from the place where explosion occurred. The smoking smell was so choking that it made breathing difficult. What was even worse was that the electricity supply stopped and the whole building was in the dark. It was under such bad circumstances that Madam Meng and I, along with other more than twenty people, were forced to walk from the 23rdfloor, where our offices were located, down to the ground floor where the exit was available.
After a long and hard walking, we finally got to the ground floor. All of us felt a little bit released because we got out of this dangerous place. But we were totally disappointed when we tried to leave the building. The reason was that the exit door was locked from outside and it was impossible for us to escape through this “safe gate”. It was just at that time, the dirty and thick smoke was continuously coming from Basement 2. The smoke was so thick and irritating that we could hardly open our eyes. Under such bad situation, we had no choice but tried to go back to the 23rdfloor from where we just came. Step by step, we walked back upstairs with much difficulty, trying to find a place to shelter ourselves in order to avoid the smoke suffocation.
It was just when we, a group of over thirty people, got to the 9th floor that a man suddenly opened his office door and invited us to get into his office. He was a white American who was about forty years old. He looked like a high-ranking company executive. After we stepped into his office, which was very spacious, we found that there were already a lot of “early birds” or “refugees”.
After all of us got in, the company executive closed the door immediately for the purpose of avoiding the smoke coming, and then he solemnly declared to all of us:“I got the information that it was a terrorists’ attack, and it is now at a very critical moment. You are welcome to use my office as a shelter. But one thing I must mention here is that my office resource is limited, and all chairs in the office should be offered to the ladies first. Besides, this office water supply is limited, too. So ladies always have the priority for water drinking”. After hearing what this gentleman said, we men all stood up from the chairs, giving them to the ladies.
The company executive used the office telephone for dialing “911” to get emergency assistance from the New York Police Department. Unfortunately the World Trade Center’s telephone connection was cut off due to the explosion, and his phone call effort was all in vain. In front of such a helpless situation, the company executive calmly said to all of us: “In order to be prepared for the worst, each of you are now required to use a piece of paper and then write your Living Will. After the document is written, please put your Will into this carton.” While he was saying, he pointed to a paper carton on one of the desks.
I was so shocked and scared that I felt as if the end of the world was coming. I guessed Madam Meng and all others might have the same feeling. But all of us did follow the company executive’s request and respectively wrote down a short message on a piece of paper. We then put all the paper messages into the carton. Obviously, those messages were regarded as the documents of our Living Will. I still remember what I wrote: my full name and work place, my wife’s name and our home address and her phone number in Beijing (for your information, by the time that explosion occurred, my wife was still working in Beijing. She had not yet come to USA to reunite with me yet). Besides, I wrote a few words to tell my wife to take care of our two kids and herself if I should die in this incident. It was clear that my wife was the person who was supposed to read the document of Living Will if something really bad would happen to me.
After the action of preparing Living Will, a black young man suddenly stepped forward to the company executive and said that he was a French who came to New York from Paris for business, and he had a cell phone which could help us contact the Police Department of New York to save all of us. As you know, in early 1990s, cell phone service was not popular at all, and only few people could possess cell phones. What this young man said lit up the hope of our survival. The company executive took the cell phone and then dialed 911 for emergency. The New York Police Department got the message and instructed us to walk down to the ground floor and get to the front door. They would send people to help us.
As per the Police Department’s instruction, all of us left the office and then walked step by step from the 9thfloor to the ground floor. At that time, Madam Meng, who was over 60 years old and relatively a weak lady, could hardly walk by herself due to the fatigue and fear. I had to use my left arm to support her during the entire walking period while using my right hand to hold the stairs handrail for balance protection. It was impossible for me to use one hand to cover my mouth in order to minimize smoke inhaling (all other people did do so). As a result, I was forced to inhale a lot heavy smoke that was quite harmful to my health.
We finally reached the ground floor again. Fortunately quite a few firemen from the New York Fire Extinguishing Department had already arrived. They used big axes to cut off the heavy lock and opened the exit door for us. We were all saved!
It was snowing thicker and heavier aswe came out of the building. The weather was so cold in that winter afternoon that as soon as I got out of the gate and stepped on the snowy ground, a shiver ran over my whole body. Imagine you seeing us the “refugees” in snow, our dresses of elegant suits, coats, pants, shirts and skirts were all black and dirty, and our faces were covered with the smoke dust and blackened, too! Then some Americans kneeled down to the snowy ground and began to pray. They were praying to God who saved their lives.
At that time, Madam Meng came back to herself, no longer feeling scared. As her home was close to the World Trade Center, she insisted on inviting me to have a short rest at her home first before doing anything else. I accepted her kind invitation and both Madam Meng and I walked towards her home. A very touching moment came while we were walking from one street to another. The residents living on both sides of the streets were very friendly. They said hi to us, and some of them even sincerely invited us to go to their houses to wash our faces and have a cup of coffee. The warmth and kindness shown by those lovely residents made us feel very warm and comfortable. I said to myself: “How wonderful and kind those New Yorkers are!”
I knew that I would never forget about those nice New Yorkers!
After I went back to the place where I lived in the evening, the headache and distention suddenly attacked me. I felt so weak and uncomfortable that I did not even have my supper. I knew that I got a bad cold and were suffering from high fever. The bad cold lasted for a long time and I was not fully recovered until one week later. That was the first time I had fever and cold ever since I settled down in the United States years ago.
A few days later, I was informed that it was a group of Islamic jihad terrorists who did this attack. They firstly loaded a lot of strong explosives in a big truck, and then drove the truck to World Trade Center and parked the truck in the parking place of Basement 2 of Tower One. The truck was just next to one of the giant columns which were used to support the whole building. Their intention was that after the explosives were ignited, this giant column would completely collapse and the whole building of Tower One would be leveled to ground. Fortunately, the World Trade Center was so strong that the giant column was not damaged at all by the explosion. The only bad consequence was that a huge pit was made on Basement 2 by the explosion. Two men who were parking their cars on Basement 2 at that moment were killed unfortunately!
The good news was that this terrorists’ attack case was detected by the New York Police Department very soon and the two “Islamic jihad fighters” responsible for the explosion were arrested.
The World Trade Center explosion case made me think a lot. Firstly, I hate the terrorists very much because of their savage actions. Second, I was deeply subdued by the gentry spirit displayed by that company executive. At that critical moment, this gentleman was so calm and firm that he followed the gentlemen’s principles of “Ladies first” and “Men should lay down their lives for the justice”! I did remember at that very moment, all men including me around the company executive found it our obligation to go forward and not to turn back, and I felt as if my own soul were being purified at that time.
The nightmare of World Trade Center explosion, though, is all but forgettable in my life!
Chapter Nineteen: Brushing Past the VIPs
When I recalled what I had achieved in my long time business career, my general feeling was that even though I could not be regarded as a smart or successful businessman, still I was qualified in international business doing. First of all, I had plenty brains in handling all kinds of businesses. Secondly, as high-level business manager, I fulfilled my job duties quite satisfactorily. Thirdly, the business relationship among my colleagues, the business counter-parts and me myself was excellent. In a word, my business career was fairly smooth, and the work results were fruitful.
In addition to what I mentioned above, I must tell you that I started my business career from scratch, and no one gave me any guidance or help when I was a beginner. Before I got involved in foreign trade matters, I had already been a very experienced English interpreter and a promising newsman. I was about to be promoted from an ordinary newsman to a position of the Deputy Department Director by Radio Beijing authorities. But it was due to the housing problem that I had to be transferred from Radio Beijing to China National Light Industrial Products Imp. & Exp. Corp. (Chinalight in short), where I was assigned to work as an ordinary business coordinator and was treated as a very common staff member.
But after a few years’ business practice, what I performed was recognized by the Company authorities. As a result, I was firstly promoted to be a Deputy Division Chief, and then be the President of two big overseas companies under Chinalight. Situated in Stamford, CT, USA, those two companies handle various kinds of businesses, and their annual turn-over was more than two hundred million US Dollars. The yearly profit was considerable.
But it was just at the moment when my position could be raised up even higher that I closed “the door of promotion” myself. The reason was that I got transferred from Chinalight to Sinochem (China National Chemical Products Imp. & Export Corp., the largest national foreign trade corporation under the Ministry of Foreign Trade). Sinochem Head Office let me continue to work in the United States, but my new position was the president of a joint venture company between Sinochem and Lief International, Inc., the largest trading company in Australia. The USA joint-venture was situated at the World Trade Center, New York, USA.
I must say that no matter whether I worked in China or in USA, I had quite a few golden opportunities of being helped by some VIPs. Those VIPs could easily make me a high-ranking official or a rich and powerful businessman. But I was so dull-witted that I just simply brushed past VIPs one after another.
The first VIP I encountered was Mr. Zhang, Xiangshan, the Director of the Central Broadcasting Bureau of the People’s Republic of China. Mr. Zhang’s position was equivalent to a Vice Cabinet Minister, and he was the No. One Leader controlling the subordinate organizations of the Central Broadcasting Station, the Central TV Station and Radio Beijing (the only foreign languages broadcasting organization in China). I still remember that Mr. Zhang personally met with me one day after he heard the news that I had decided to leave Radio Beijing and try to find a new job. During the meeting, Mr. Zhang sincerely persuaded me not to leave, and he even gave me a hint that if I would work hard and continue to display my capability, my future in the broadcasting industry would be very bright. He said to me that no matter how high his position was, he would become old and get retired one day. Should that day arrive, he would need a successor. In his eyes, I could be one of his successor candidates.
Upon hearing what this VIP said to me, I really felt that I was over-flattered. But I politely rejected his suggestion of my continuing to work at Radio Beijing. The reason was that since Mr. Zhang, the Supreme Leader of China’s Central Broadcasting Bureau, was not able to solve my housing problem, I felt even more hopeless. I firmly believed that my housing problem could not be solved no matter how hard I would continue to work at Radio Beijing. By rejecting face-to-face what Mr. Zhang suggested to me, I knew very well that it was the first time in my life to brush past a real VIP.
After hearing the fact that I had decided to leave Radio Beijing and try to find a new job, a friend of mine suggested me to go to China International Trust & Investment Corp. (CITIC in short) to try my luck. As per the arrangement by the Human Resources Department of CITIC, I went to CITIC office for an interview. After the Head of the Human Resources Department finished his interview with me, he had an additional request by telling me to undergo two English tests, one was in oral, and the other one was in written. Fortunately, I passed both tests quite well. A few days later, the Head of the CITIC’s Human Resources called me and said seriously over phone that they wanted to hire me as the English interpreter of Mr. Rong Yiren who was the Chairman and CEO of CITIC because they thought that my English was good enough to take up this interpreter job.
When I heard this piece of good news, I really felt excited because I did know what it would mean to me if I could really work under Mr. Rong directly. But at the same time, I knew clearly that my most urgent need was to solve my housing problem. Unfortunately, CITIC could not afford to provide me with any house or apartment because the Company was established not long ago, and the CITIC people did not even have their own office building yet. They were just temporarily renting a few hotel rooms for their office usage. Facing such a realistic situation, I had to reject Mr. Rong’s kind suggestion of letting me become his English interpreter.
To be honest with you, in my heart, I really felt very sorry to have lost such a good opportunity. You just think that Mr. Rong Yiren was not only the Chairman and CEO of CITIC, but also the Vice-Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, a very high-ranking state leader. If I would work for him, my future could be very bright. And it would be most likely for me to become a high-ranking business executive at CITIC after a certain period of working there. But I brushed past this VIP. That was the second time for me to lose a good opportunity.
The third opportunity came after I succeeded in getting transferred from Radio Beijing to Chinalight.
I still remember that just on the first day of my starting to work for Chinalight, a high-ranking official, whose name was Zhou Yuner, suddenly called me. For your information, Mr. Zhou was not only the Secretary of Mr. Zheng Tuobin, Minister of Foreign Trade Ministry, but also my schoolmate. He and I all graduated from Peking Institute of Foreign Trade (it was later renamed as University of International Business and Economics), but he was three years more senior than me. And we did know each other as schoolfellows.
I was surprised when I heard his voice because I did not know why he, a high-ranking Ministry official, should call me. Mr. Zhou told me over phone that he was to make an appointment with me and suggested that I should go to visit him as soon as possible. Before the phone conversation was finished, he said to me again that he would have a very important matter to discuss with me.
As per what he requested, I went to the Ministry to see Mr. Zhou the following day. After I got to the Ministry and told the security guard whom I was and whom I wished to see, the guard called Mr. Zhou immediately and informed him of my arrival. A few minutes later, Mr. Zhou came to the gate and invited me to come in. I followed him to a meeting room.
After he and I were seated, he started the conversation with me at once. He said that Minister Zheng wished that I would give up the chance of working for Chinalight, and instead, I should go to the Ministry for a new job. As for what kind of new job would be, he clearly told me that my new position was the Ministry’s Spokesman to be. And then he asked me if I would agree or not. If I had no objection, it would be very easy for the Ministry to get me transferred from Chinalight to the Ministry because Chinalight was only a subordinate company under the Ministry’s direct jurisdiction.
After hearing what Mr. Zhou said to me, I really did not know what to say. Realizing that I kept silence without saying “yes” or “no”, Mr. Zhou continued to state that Minister Zheng deemed it necessary for the Ministry to have an official Spokesman, and the Minister thought that I could be the right person for taking that kind of position. He continued to say that Minister Zheng thought there were three reasons why I could be a quailed Spokesman.
Reason One, as an English broadcaster, I had already accumulated 5 years working experience at Radio Beijing. And I must know mass media work very well.
Reason Two, an official Foreign Ministry Spokesman must master fluent and standard English because he or she would face foreign correspondents very frequently if news conferences would be held. The Minister thought that I was qualified to this requirement because I used to be an English interpreter providing 4 years service to Mr. Bu Ke, the Head of the Chinese Working Team in Assisting the Construction of the Tanzania-Zambian Railway in Africa (for your information, Mr. Bu was also a Vice-Minister of China’s Railways Ministry). My English must be good enough.
Reason Three, I graduated from Peking Institute of Foreign Trade, and I must have good knowledge of foreign trade affairs. “In a word, the Minister felt that you could be a qualified Spokesman after being trained for a certain period of time at the Ministry”, Mr. Zhou seriously concluded.
I was overjoyed upon hearing what Mr. Zhou said to me. I even felt rather proud of myself because I did not expect that a small potato like me could draw the attention from Minster Zheng, a very high-ranking official in China. But very soon, I calmed down because I suddenly thought of my housing problem which was of the first importance, So, I asked Mr. Zhou if my house problem could be smoothly solved after my starting to work for the Ministry. Without any hesitation, Mr. Zhou gave me a reply of “Yes”. He even proudly declared that the Minister had the capability of providing me a 3-bedroom apartment after I got transferred.
In order to take this serious matter into my very careful and thoughtful consideration, I asked Mr. Zhou to give me a little bit more time to think this matter over. But I told Mr. Zhou that I would give him a confirmed reply very soon. Mr. Zhou accepted my request and then we said good-bye to each other.
After I got back home, I considered this matter again and again. Finally I decided to continue to stay at Chinalight without being transferred to the Ministry. The reason was very simple: Chinalight treated me nicely and they already promised to give me a 3-bedroom apartment, enabling me to solve my housing problem completely. I said to myself: I must not change my mind the moment I see something new. Neither should I be devoid of gratitude!
After my final decision was made, I called Mr. Zhou next day, and told him about it. Mr. Zhou felt frustrated upon hearing my decision. He even scolded me by saying: “You are the young man who really does not appreciate what is good to you!” But before the phone conversation was ending, he changed his attitude and politely said to me that he would report this to the Minister.
I was told later that after Minister Zheng came to know my final decision, he was not surprised nor disappointed. He just simply smiled and then said to his secretary Mr. Zhou: “So long as this young man still works at one of the Ministry’s subordinate companies, it would be ok because he is not out of our foreign trade industry.”
But things were entirely different to me because I lost a golden opportunity of obtaining a very promising job position – the Foreign Trade Ministry’s Spokesman. This kind of opportunity is something which only comes by luck, not by searching for it!
After I started to work for Export Division NO. 2 under Chinalight, an extraordinary VIP came into my life. This VIP was Mr. Li Haoran, Division Chief of Export Division NO. 2, my direct superior as well as my good friend.
I still remember that in the third year of my working for Chinalight, Mr. Li got transferred from Chinalight to another big national company, which was called China National Silk Products Imp. & Exp. Corp. (Chinasilk in short). The reason of his transfer was that Chinasilk gave him the promotion from a Division Chief to the Vice-President of Chinasilk Head Office (Mr. Li could not be promoted if he would continue to work for Chinalight. Please read Chapter 16 untitled “An ‘Outlier’ in Official Circles” for details).
As Mr. Li’s old subordinate and a good friend, I went to Chinasilk to visit him from time to time. When I met him at his office and we began to talk, he always suggested me to say good-bye to Chinalight and come to Chinasilk for a fresh start. He was sure that he had the power and right to give me a better future: I would be promoted from an ordinary staff member to a Deputy Division Chief. I appreciated Mr. Li’s kindness, but I declined his suggestion because I knew that I was a person who would always show my sincere gratitude to the one who helped me. Since Chinalight was treating me very well, there would be no reason for getting transferred to Chinasilk. As far as my promotion was concerned, I did believe that as long as I continue to work hard and perform well at Chinalight, sooner or later I would definitely be promoted (two years later, I became the Deputy Chief of Export Division NO. 2).
It was due to Mr. Li’s outstanding work performances, two more years later, he was transferred to China Foreign Trade Ministry and appointed as the Director of Foreign Trade Administration Bureau, becoming a very powerful and decisive leading official at the Ministry. For your information, Foreign Trade Administration Bureau controlled the whole nation’s export and import products licenses and quotas. Without Mr. Li’s signature for the approval of export or import licenses issuing, no provincial or city leveled companies or manufacturers could get quotas for importing or exporting some restricted products. Even though he had already become a “big” VIP, he still took me, his old subordinate, as his personal and close friend.
One day, I went to the Ministry for a business meeting. After the meeting was over, I stepped into Mr. Li’s office for a special visit. Since Mr. Li and I had been old friends for years, we could talk freely and casually. Pointing at the sofa which I was sitting at, Mr. Li proudly said to me: “Don’t look down upon this PVC sofa in front of you, dear Gong. I must tell you that I really do not remember how many VIPs, who were titled as high as Provincial Governors or big City Mayors, were sitting at this sofa and imploring me to issue them licenses for obtaining export or import quotas. Realizing that I was listening to him intently, he smiled satisfactorily, and then told me a few interesting stories on how some governors and mayors negotiated with him for getting licenses. Listening to what Mr. Li was saying to me, I couldn’t help admiring him a lot. And I did show my respect to him from the bottom of my heart.
Before the quite long time talking was over, Mr. Li suddenly asked me if I would be interested in coming to his bureau to work? Seeing I was feeling confused and did not say anything, he further stated to me: “Please come to my Bureau to start your new but bright future. I will firstly give you a position of the Division Chief of the most important Division under this Bureau. Two years later, you will be promoted to be the Deputy Director, whose ranking will just be next to me. When my retirement time arrives, I will definitely recommend you to the Minister for allowing you to replace my position as the Director”!
I could not believe my ears after hearing what he mentioned to me. I knew very well this was a brilliant and ideal blueprint Mr. Li had drawn for me! It was obvious that my old boss was going to give me a golden chance of my becoming a high-ranking and powerful official at the Foreign Trade Ministry. I thanked Mr. Li sincerely and asked him to allow me to think of this matter over and then I would give him a reply. He agreed, and then we said good-bye to each other.
After I went back home, I thought of this matter again and again. And finally I said “No” to Mr. Li because I knew that I should not leave Chinalight, who was so kind to my family and me. Just after I began to work for Chinalight, they did provide me with a 3-bedroom apartment and solved my housing issue completely. I was not supposed to “betray” Chinalight.
Another golden chance was lost!
A few months later, I went to the Foreign Trade Ministry again for business. This time, I was going to visit another high-ranking official whose name was Zhou Xiaochuan, the Director of another Bureau under the Ministry. In the mentioning of Mr. Zhou Xiaochuan, I must tell you that he was a very famous figure in the Chinese official circles. After a few years’ stay at the Foreign Trade Ministry, he was appointed by the Chinese Government as the Director of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange. A few more years later, he became the President and Chairman of the People’s Bank of China (China’s Central Bank). And now he is the Vice-Chairman of Boao Forum for Asia (BFA in short).
Mr. Zhou did not know me when I first visited him at his office. When I stepped into his office, he was just in the process of having a phone conversation with someone. After the phone talk was over, he turned to me and asked me for the reason of visiting. I immediately presented him an official letter of introduction, which stated clearly the purpose of my visit. After having a quick reading of the letter, he invited me to sit down at the chair in front of him. And then he said to me that he would not be able to talk to me until one urgent and important document was drafted. Since Mr. Zhou’s ranking was much higher than mine, I could say nothing, but followed his instruction.
I had been waiting for him for a very long time, but he was still burying himself in document drafting. It seemed to me that he had not got ready to start the conversation with me. A long time waiting made me feel rather bored, so I tried to see if there would be any books or magazines around because reading could definitely help me kill the waiting time.
There was indeed a magazine which was named “Red Flag” on a corner of Mr. Zhou’s huge desk. For your information, the magazine “Red Flag” was an influential reading material for most of the high-ranking officials in China. I picked up the magazine and began to have a quick browsing. When I opened the Magazine and turned it over to a certain page, an article entitled “My Viewpoints on China’s Macroeconomic Development” attracted me. It was just at the moment of my starting to read it when I suddenly found that the writer’s name was Dai Yuanchen. I must tell you that Mr. Dai was one of the most famous economists in China. In the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Dai was even regarded as the most authoritative economist in China’s macroeconomics research. Further more, Mr. Dai was my cousin because his mother-in-law was my mother’s younger sister. As it was beyond my expectation, I involuntarily mumbled out a sentence of “there is also an article written by Dai Yuanchen”?
Mr. Zhou Xiaochun heard what I mumbled and immediately stopped his writing. He raised up his head, asking me: “You know Mr. Dai Yuanchen?” I nodded my head and told him the relations between him and me. After Mr. Zhou came to know that Mr. Dai was my cousin, he gave up his important document drafting and began to talk to me. He told me that Mr. Dai was his Ph.D. Supervisor when he studied at the Chinese Academy of Social Science. It might be due to the fact that I was his teacher’s relative that Mr. Zhou treated me courteously, and the conversation between him and me went well. He not only listened to me intently, but also promised to meet all the requirements which were raised up by my Company. When the meeting was over, Mr. Zhou shook my hands, saying: “From now on, you can come to see me at any time if you wish. If you or your company have or has any difficulties, please just come to tell me. I will try my best to help you”.
Obviously, a new golden opportunity was knocking at my door. If I wished, I could purposefully strengthen my personal relations with Mr. Zhou. With his help and guidance, I could even have a much better future in my business career. But the fact was that since I met with Mr. Zhou that time, I had no more contact with him at all. I know that this was my fifth time to brush past a VIP.
In March of 1987, Chinalight authorities sent me to USA to work as the President of its overseas company. And this company’s main item was leather wallets and purses, and our production basis was in the mainland China. In order to purchase better-quality accessories such as zippers, hyaline membrane and glue, I had to travel from New York to Hong Kong frequently because the Hong Kong market could always provide less expensive but good quality products. Besides this accessories purchasing, I also wished to meet with my old friend Chen Xiangyao, owner of a large and influential labor safety products company in Hong Kong.
Mr. Chen used to be my business customer when I worked as the Deputy Division Chief of Chinalight’s Export Division NO. 2. At that time, I was in charge of the whole nation’s leather working gloves export. You should not belittle this product of leather working gloves. As a matter of fact, this was a “key” product among all the related light industrial products which were managed by Chinalight. At least in our Export Division NO. 2, the product of leather working gloves played an extremely important role. Our annual export value of leather working gloves was over one hundred million US Dollars. And the leather working gloves were mainly exported to those developed countries or regions of the United States, Japan and Europe.
In order to manage this products’ export well and control the products’ quality, export licenses were required. And I was the person who had the right to issue the licenses to the branch companies concerned nationwide. Since Hong Kong was the most important transit seaport, and there were too many buyers of this product. And therefore our Export Division NO. 2 strictly selected eight large and important labor safety products companies as our fixed customers. Through out Hong Kong, only those eight companies were allowed to buy the leather working gloves from the mainland China and then transit the goods to the rest of the world. Of course, by doing so, they could earn a reasonable price difference profit. And Mr. Chen’s company was one of those big “Eight Leather Working Glove Buyers” in Hong Kong.
After a few years’ cooperation with those Eight Hong Kong Buyers, I had finally found that Mr. Chen’s company was the best. Many facts proved that Mr. Chen was a businessman with honesty and integrity. And he and his company did business with the Chinese suppliers concerned in a fair and reasonable way. Most importantly, Mr. Chen was very cooperative whenever my Division needed his assistance or help. Even though he knew clearly that I was the decisive person in China’s leather working glove export business, he never purposefully tried to be close with me. Neither he used any special means to make me feel happy so that he could win my trust. Mr. Chen’s outstanding work performance and business devotion had won him a good reputation both in Hong Kong and the mainland of China.
When I was the Deputy Division Chief who was in charge of the Chinese working gloves business, I never gave Mr. Chen any special treatment or favor even though he and I were very friendly with each other whenever we met either in Hong Kong or China. I had not visited him and his company quite often until I left Chinalight Head Office and became the President of Chinalight’s overseas branch company in USA.
In order to purchase the good quality accessories for my company’s leather goods, I started to cooperate with Mr. Chen’s company. After several business transactions were done, I felt that the prices quoted by Mr. Chen were always the most reasonable (for your information, I not only bought accessories from Chen’s company, but also from another good Hong Kong supplier). Gradually, Mr. Chen became my personal friend.
Whenever I planed to visit Hong Kong and Mr. Chen was pre-noticed, he always personally met with me at Hong Kong airport. And then he would drive me to the hotel. One thing must be mentioned here was that each time, Mr. Chen booked the hotel room for me in advance, and then he insisted on knowing the number of the room I would lodge at. While driving his car to the airport to pick me up, Mr. Chen would call his office manager and tell him to buy a large bunch of flowers. After the flowers were purchased, the manager must get to my hotel room and put the flowers into a vase. And then the vase would be placed on the table. As soon as I stepped into my hotel room and saw the beautiful flowers, I would feel very happy and comfortable. It showed Mr. Chen’s special respect to me. With time passing by, Mr. Chen finally became my intimate friend in Hong Kong.
One time I visited Hong Kong again. After Mr. Chen sent me to the hotel room, he did not leave the room at once as what you usually did. (For your information, he usually would accompany me to the hotel and then told me to have a short rest first. Then he would leave the hotel. When evening came, he would come to my hotel again, inviting me to dinner). But this time, things were different. Instead, he did not leave my hotel room. He told me that he would have something important to discuss with me. By nodding my head, I expressed my readiness to listen to him.
After he and I were seated, Mr. Chen told me that recently he did not feel well physically, but the company business was developing rapidly. Since he felt very tired from time to time, he could not do as much work as he usually did. In order to let the company continue to develop healthily, he sincerely suggested that I could leave Chinalight and get to Hong Kong to join his company. The prerequisites of my joining his company were the following:
One, I would be his company’s CEO while he would still be the Chairman of the Board of Directors, as well as the owner.
Two, my first year’s starting salary would be one million HK Dollars plus a rather attractive bonus every year.
Three, as the company’s CEO, I would be responsible for the company’s overall work while Mr. Chen, the Chairman, would concentrate on taking care of his health. If necessary, he would be hospitalized.
You cannot imagine that in China’s early 1990s, the amount of one hundred million Hong Kong Dollars was really an enormous figure! With this big amount of money as my annual income, I would easily become a millionaire in a few years. Besides, I could get extra but big bonus money as well. It seemed to me that my future would be very bright if I would accept his proposal and move to Hong Kong to start my new business career.
But I had to face the reality at that time: I was a government official, and the company I served was one of China’s largest national foreign trade enterprises. That time’s condition did not allow me to leave the government organization and join a Hong Kong private company. I was forced to decline what Mr. Chen offered. As a result, I lost my life’s best opportunity of becoming a rich and powerful man!
Unfortunately, Mr. Chen died of liver cancer two years later. He was only 58 years old when he passed away. It was a great pity that Hong Kong lost a business elite and I lost a bosom friend!
Last but not least time I brushed past a VIP was when I worked in the USA, being the President of two large and strong overseas branch companies under Chinalight.
Since the two companies I served in the United States were backed by Chinalight, an influential national enterprise with powerful financial strength, I could easily win the trust from Bank of China, New York Branch. But from my side, I had to try my best to establish good business relations with this bank because we did need their financial support in our business transactions. Every year, the two companies, which were headed by me, handled over two hundred million US Dollars businesses in both import and export deals. The Bank of China, New York Brach always helped us in terms of financé and credit.
After a certain period of time excellent business cooperation, Mr. Wang, President of Bank of China’s New York Branch Branch became my personal friend, and our relations were very close.
Every year when Christmas was to arrive, Mr. Wang and his wife (she was also my good friend) would take their subordinates, such as the Vice-President and some Department Managers, to Stamford, Connecticut, where my company was located, to spend the holiday together with my office people. On the eve of the Christmas, we always held a big party at a five-star hotel close to our office building. It was a wonderful time for both the Bank people and my company staff members to enjoy the holiday together. After the party was over, Mr. Wang and his followers would spend the night at that five-star hotel, and my company would pay the bill. And they would not leave Stamford for New York until next day’s afternoon. Year after year, it was like this. Gradually, the relations between Mr. Wang and me had been further enhanced.
Two years later, Mr. Wang got transferred from Bank of China to China Everbright Bank. To give him a promotion, China Everbright Bank appointed him as the Vice-President of Everbright Bank Head Office, as well as the President of their Hong Kong Branch.
When he was about to leave New York for Hong Kong, he purposefully called me and let me come to New York for a meeting. After I got to his office and started to talk, he sincerely invited me to go to Hong Kong together with him. He promised that he would give me a very high position at Everbright Hong Kong Bank. And my salary would be rather attractive.
After hearing what Mr. Wang suggested, I really appreciated him for his good offer. But I declined Mr. Wang’s kindness. The reason was very simple: I majored on international business at the university and foreign trade work was my bread and butter. As far as the banking and financing businesses were concerned, I had no knowledge at all. I was not supposed to fill a post without real qualifications.
Again, I brushed past a VIP!
Anecdotes of the Chinese Trading Groups Abroad
With the rapid development of the Chinese foreign trade, more and more Chinese trade groups or delegations were sent to the foreign countries for business negotiations and contracts. Therefore a lot of interesting stories about what those Chinese visitors did and how they behaved came into being. Some of the stories are not only interesting, but also unforgettable. cheerfully, I’d like to share with you the following stories:
What Does the English Word of ‘Downtown’ Mean?
One day, Mr. Zheng, the Finance Division Chief, who was working together with me at the company called “Chinalight”, came to my office and asked me a question of what was the real meaning of the English word of “downtown”? Since Mr. Zheng knew that my English was quite good and he took me as a good friend, he just wanted to come to me for a correct answer. I gave him a standard explanation by saying that downtown meant a place or an area in the city center or the CBD (City Business District). But Mr. Zheng did not seem to be satisfied. He said to me he was still very confused after listening to my explanation. Out of my curiosity, I asked him why, did anything happen to him. He then told me what he experienced in his recent trips to London and New York.
Mr. Zheng was the head of a trade group that was scheduled to visit the Great Britain and the United States of America. The trade group first reached London and was ready to visit one big customer there. In order to work with a fixed budget, Mr. Zheng asked one of his group members to borrow a car from his relative who was living in London.
The young man got the car. The 4-member trade group left their hotel for the place where that big client’s company was located. The client’s company was not in London, and it was situated in a small city very close to this metropolitan city. You must understand that it was the first time for those four people to visit London, and none of them was familiar with the city map and direction. The young driver had to stop from time to time and asked the pedestrians who were walking by on how to get to the destination.
After a couple of hours of driving, they reached the suburbs of that small city. In order to know the correct direction on how to get to the client’s place, the driver purposefully stopped at a gas station on the roadside, stepped out from the car and asked a gas-station attendant about the route. After reading the business card given to him by the young driver, the attendant said to him: “Oh, it is in the downtown of this city. You won’t miss it”.
Upon hearing the English word of “downtown”, Mr. Zheng, who had very little knowledge of English, opinionatedly assumed that downtown must mean “going down from the city center to the other side”. So he instructed the driver: “Go straight down through the city, and we will find the place!” The English word of downtown is composed of two words of “down” and “town”. The word of “down”means descending, or going from higher place to a lower place. And the word of “town” means a busy place with a lot of people and buildings. In English, the word of downtown means city center or town center unless otherwise is defined. But the misinterpretation towards the basic meanings of those two words led Mr. Zheng to the wrong decision. He insisted on letting the driver go further down after they got to the city center.
For your information, in China’s 1980s, the Chinese foreign trade people were not very good at English. Mr. Zheng and his trade group members did not grasp the exact meaning of the word of downtown. Even though one or two members got doubted about what Mr. Zheng had instructed, they did not dare to question what Mr. Zheng remarked only because in their eyes, Mr. Zheng was a high-ranking official from the Head Office. Following Mr. Zheng’s decision, the driver just drove the car straightforward from the gas-station down to the other side of this small city (they passed the city center). After they got to the other side of the city, they could not find this company’s location. The driver had to stop the car and asked a pedestrian who was walking on the street. The pedestrian read the business card and told the driver that they had just passed this place because the company was right in the city center. Mr. Zheng and his trade group people had no other choice but followed the pedestrian’s direction-pointing, driving the car back to the city where they finally arrived at the company.
After visiting England, the trade group headed by Mr. Zheng went to New York, America for the next business trip. Again, they must go to see a big customer. They firstly checked this company’s address. After reading this company’s address which was shown on the business card, Mr. Zheng was quite sure that the company must also be situated in the downtown area of New York. The coincidence was that one of the trade group members had a relative abroad, and this relative was in New York. As per the experience they accumulated in their London trip, Mr. Zheng let this member borrow a car from his relative. By doing so, they could also save some travel expenses. The car borrowed, the young man who drove in London again became a temporary driver (he was the only one who had a driver’s license).
Before they left the hotel for the company, Mr. Zheng and his members checked the company’s address carefully for the purpose of getting there correctly. After reading the business card, both Mr. Zheng and the young driver were all quite sure that this company was in downtown. So they started to drive to downtown, the city center. But the strange thing was that no matter how hard they tried to find this company in the city center, they just failed. Finally, the driver was forced to park his car at a street corner and stopped a pedestrian for the direction. After reading the business card, the pedestrian, a middle-aged white man, told Mr. Zheng and the driver that this company was located in Brooklyn, downtown of New York City. Upon hearing what the pedestrian said, Mr. Zheng was very confused and said that since it was in downtown of New York, why they could not find it? The pedestrian smiled and explained to him that in New York, downtown area was referred to Brooklyn, and the place they were staying now was New York’s midtown, Manhattan. And Queens area of New York was called uptown.
With this pedestrian’s help, they drove to Brooklyn, downtown of New York and found the company. But Mr. Zheng was again feeling very confused. He could not understand why New York’s downtown was different from the downtown in London. I guess that probably Mr. Zheng is still feeling confused about the concept.
Roasted Ducks Are Much Better Than Fresh Flowers!
Mr. Qiu，a young salesman from Shanghai Animal By-Products Imp. & Exp. Corp., came to my office one day during his USA visit, telling me that he did not think Americans could understand what the Chinese liked in terms of gifts presenting. He went on to say that even though the Americans spent money on purchasing “good gifts” for the Chinese visitors, yet what they did was not pleasing at all. After hearing what Mr. Qiu said, I felt very surprised. And then I asked him why he should have said so.
Mr. Qiu told me that a few months ago, he accompanied his Section Chief, Mr. Wang, on a business trip to the USA. As soon as they arrived at Newark International Airport, New Jersey, USA, Mr. Richard Florin, President of the well-known leather accessories company of Westport Corp., which was situated in New Jersey, gave them a warm welcome at the airport. Mr. Florin presented each of them a bunch of flowers. According to the Westerners’ habit, to present guests with fresh and beautiful flowers is a sign of respect and friendship. Mr. Florin showed with that gesture his sincere welcome to the Chinese trade group members who came from Shanghai. But neither Mr. Wang nor Mr. Qiu felt excited or happy after accepting the flowers because in their eyes, flowers were not as good as roasted ducks.
The reason was obvious that in the time when Mr. Qiu and his Section Chief visited USA, the Chinese Trade Groups’ overseas visiting must follow a system of “Contract Responsibilities”, which was stipulated by the Chinese government department concerned. That was to say that in addition to the round-trip international air tickets, each trade group was allowed to spend the regulated and limited amount of money on the travel expenses of hotel lodging, food expenditure, local traffic needs (such as taxi, bus, boat and train and so on and so forth) and pocket money. It would be up to the trade group members to decide on how to use the money. For example, if the trade group members wanted to save money on food, they could go and buy fast and simple food for their three meals. In this case, McDonalds’, KFC or Burger King would be their best choice. If they did not like the junk food and insisted on the Chinese taste, they could go to a Chinese restaurant for the simple meal of noodles. By so doing, they could save some food money for their own. And the saved money could be used for buying small gifts to bring back to China for their relatives or friends. If Mr. Florin did not buy a bunch of flowers for Mr. Qiu as a decent gift, but rather “smartly” changed his mind to buy a piece of roasted duck, that would be beneficial to Mr. Qiu. Firstly, Mr. Qiu could enjoy a really delicious food for dinner; Secondly, he could put the saved supper money into his own pocket. As far as Mr. Qiu was concerned, he felt that flowers were not as valuable or important as roasted ducks.
After I listened to what Mr. Qiu explained, I could not help laughing. I said to Mr. Qiu earnestly: “Yes, my company will prepare a piece of big and delicious roasted duck for each of you when you guys visit USA again next time”!
‘Strange Visitors’ At Australia’s Gold Coast
One time, I took a big trade group, the members of which came from three different provincial branch companies, to visit Australia. The purpose of our visiting was to develop one important new business collaboration with an influential Australian company. And this company was located in the city of Brisbane, the third largest city in Australia
After the business negotiations were over and a desirable agreement was reached, we all wanted to get relaxed for a while and enjoy a good time in Brisbane. It was known to all that Australia’s Gold Coast in Brisbane area was a very famous beach resort, as well as an ocean-view scenic spot. Therefore we decided to go to Gold Coast the following day, Saturday.
It was common knowledge that to go to a beach resort was a casual and non-formal activity. Since it was summer time and I suggested to all the trade group members at the meeting that we, the visitors, should wear T-shirts, pairs of shorts and casual shoes for such a visit. But Mr. Zhou, one of the group members, as well as a Section Chief of Guangdong Light Industrial Products Imp. & Exp. Corp., unexpectedly stood up and said that he was against what I proposed. Influenced by the “ultra-leftists’ thinking” at that time, Mr. Zhou remarked in an authoritative way: “Since we are representing the Chinese government-related companies for such an official Australian visit, we must protect the Chinese people’s dignity and image. Our formal appearance must be placed on the first place!” He strongly suggested to me: “All of us must be in coats and ties tomorrow when we have the beach tour”.
To be honest with you, at that time, I had been just promoted from an ordinary staff member to the Division’s Deputy Chief. My qualifications and experiences were still insufficient in comparison with Mr. Zhou’s, who was not only a “veteran revolutionary” who was much older than me, but also a senior Section Chief who was with a lofty virtue worthy of respect. I understood that this “veteran revolutionary” would be embarrassed if I should reject what he had suggested. In the mean time, I said to myself: “To go to Gold Coast for a casual trip is no big deal, and it is not necessary to be so serious towards this matter”. And therefore I was forced to decide to follow Mr. Zhou’s “big idea”.
The following day was a sunny and warm Saturday. The sky was blue and the ocean was gigantic. On the famous picturesque beach of Gold Coast, a peculiar and striking scene was appearing: Six Chinese gentlemen, who were wearing formal suits, expensive ties and shining leather shoes and carrying brief cases, were strolling on the beach. Around six of us were a lot of men and women who were just in casual dressing or even in swimming suits. We, the six Chinese visitors, looked very strange and “special” when we were among the crowded people. And as a matter of fact, our arrival had aroused pears of laughter from other tourists, and they even looked at us in a weird way.
Facing such an awkward situation, I felt both ashamed and shocked. Without any hesitation, I immediately ordered my people: “Turn back and leave off the beach. Go back to our hotel!”
Thus, I lost a good opportunity of enjoying the enchanting scenery of Australia’s Gold Coast. What a pity!
Do You Speak English?
One other time, I took a 5-member trade group to visit France. One of the members came from the Ministry of Foreign Trade, and his last name was Qi. Since he was young and small, we all called him “Xiao Qi”(meaning “Little Qi”). The main aim of our French trip was to sign an Exclusive Sales Agreement with a big French company. And the company’s owner was Mr. Dubois, a kind and friendly old gentleman, as well as our long time business counter-part in Paris, France.
The next day morning, we went to Mr. Dubois’ office for a visit. After we finished our business talking and were about to leave the company, Mr. Dubois sincerely and seriously said to us: “In general, the French people do not like to speak English. Some people, who do know how to speak English, would pretend not to understand English. In their minds, French is the best language in the world.” In order to protect us, Mr. Dubois prepared 5 pieces of paper cards. And on each card, his company name and address were printed. He respectively gave one piece of paper card to each of us, and then said: “Whenever you lose your way on your Paris tour, you just stop a taxi and then show this card to the driver. And the driver will send you to your hotel safely. No need for you to speak English to the driver”.
In view of the fact that we had just arrived in France, we would need some cash for our daily use. So I decided to let the person who was in charge of money spending take out a couple of traveler’s checks and then use them to exchange for the French franc at a local bank. Since none of the group members could speak French, I wanted to ask Mr. Dubois to send one staff member to escort us to the bank. It was just at the point of my doing so, Xiao Qi, who came from the Ministry, confidently said to me: “No need to ask Mr. Dubois for help. Even though I learned English at the university, yet French was my second foreign language. I can handle this matter should French speaking be needed”. I was very happy to hear what Xiao Qi said.
Five of us said good-bye to Mr. Dubois. Then we walked to a local bank which was not far away from Mr. Dubois’ company. After we stepped into the bank, Xiao Qi and the member who was in charge of money spending walked directly to one of the bank’s business windows while three of us remained sitting in the waiting room. I saw Xiao Qi was talking to a pretty French girl, the bank clerk, at the window. I could hear Xiao Qi speaking loudly in “French”, but I did not understand what he was saying about because French was not my second foreign language. But the funny thing was that the beautiful girl was just staring at Xiao Qi while listening to what he was talking. I guessed from her facial expressions that she did not understand him. She just kept silent. Xiao Qi was a little bit worried and nervous since he could not get any direct response from the bank clerk, so he tried to use his “French” again to repeat what he had just said (I guessed that he must say: “we would like to use our traveler’s checks for exchanging some cash of French franc”). This time, the girl kept silence for a while and then suddenly used English to ask Xiao Qi: “Do you speak English?”
At that very moment, I saw Xiao Qi’s face turning red in shame. Xiao Qi’s “excellent and standard” French speaking put all of us at a very embarrassing situation. We did not know if we should laugh or cry! Meanwhile, all four of us said to ourselves: “Oh Qi, what a good French speaker you are!”
The Bread Here Is Really Delicious!
When I worked in Stamford, Connecticut, USA, I frequently hosted the Chinese delegations or trade groups who came to USA for paper and paper pulp purchasing. One time, the director of the largest paper-making factory in Jiangxi Province and his two assistants came to my company for signing a big contract. You must understand that Jiangxi Paper Mill was a state-owned enterprise and it was really a big factory in Nanchang, capital city of Jiangxi Province. Every year, they bought a large quantity of American paper pulp from our company, and then they used the pulp for the paper-making. It was known to us that important customers were our “God” whom our livelihood depended. It was natural for me and my colleagues to give the 3-member trade group a warm welcome.
After the first day of business meeting was over, it was dinner time. In order to show my hospitality towards the three VIPs, I decided to invite them to a dinner at a Western-styled restaurant that was regarded as the best one in the city of Stamford. The three trade group members and I stepped into the restaurant and were seated at the table. We had appetizers first. Then I ordered the decent, tasteful and expensive main courses for our distinguished guests. Those dishes were New York steak, Boston lobster and Alaska salmon plus New England clam chowder soups. I expected that my choice for them would be highly praised. After the dinner was over, I politely asked the factory director, who was a very famous and influential figure in the Chinese paper industry, as well as a frequent international traveler, if he and his followers were satisfied with the food I ordered for them. I was greatly surprised to hear what the factory director replied: “Oh, yes, the bread here is really delicious!” I almost fainted when I heard his comment.
After saying good-bye to the Jiangxi guests, I met with a high-ranking trade delegation, and this delegation’s members all came from China’s Hubei Province. The reason why I said it was a high-ranking delegation was that the seven delegation members all possessed high-ranking positions. They were either the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner of Hubei Provincial Economic & Foreign Trade Affairs Committee, or the Departments Chiefs from the different government-owned organizations of Hubei Province. In a word, all the seven members were high-ranking officials.
The delegation’s visiting schedule was very tight. They just came to my office that afternoon and would only give me a few hours for business discussions. They would then leave for another city before dinner time. Facing such a special situation, I knew that it would be impossible to invite them to have a formal dinner either at a Chinese restaurant or an Italian one. The only possibility for entertaining them was to let them have a fast food before they leave. So I took them to a McDonald’s that was close to my office. In order to make them feel better since they were VIPs from Hubei Province, I especially ordered the “Double Big Mac” for each of them. That meant that there were two pieces ofground beef pies inside each hamburger, and our guests could enjoy more meat. Before I placed orders, I did ask the delegation members for their advice and see if they would like the hamburger or not, none of them said “No” to me. When the food was served, those VIPs just silently ate the burgers and buried their heads to drink Coca-Cola. It seemed to me that everything was ok! It was just after the meal was over, and I occasionally gave a casual glance at the table where those VIPs sat around, I was startled immediately in amazement. I saw with my own eyes that there were fourteen (14) pieces of complete ground beef pies on it. The reason was simple: none of those seven (7) Chinese officials liked the ground beef, but they did love the bread. So they ate up all the bread and left beef over on the trays.
Again, I experienced the Chinese people’s “national complex” of loving the Chinese food and suffering from the Western taste!
About the Author:
Ruzhong Gong (R.Z. Gong), born in Shanghai, China, now living in the USA.
Graduated From the English Department of University of International Business and Economics, Beijing, China
Before retirement, President of an USA overseas company under China National Light Industrial Products Imp. & Exp. Corp.; President of a joint-venture company in USA, jointly owned by Australia’s Lief Group Company and China National Chemical Products Imp. & Exp. Corp.; President of an American Brach Corp. under China National Foreign Trade Bases Corp.; Chief Representative in Beijing Office under Trade Am, an American Carpets Wholesale Company.
Author of 6 books, including “My Life—Family, Career & VIPs”, “How to Do Business in Mainland of China”, “My Leisure Time”, “My Leisure Time—Poems & Articles” , “Poems and Essays from Leisure Chamber” and “Flowers By My Side”.