Daughter of China: A True Story of Love and Betrayal

Overview

The critically acclaimed memoir of a forbidden love affair in communist China

"An important work."-San Francisco Chronicle

"Riveting."-Kirkus Reviews

"This memoir is a must-read."-San Jose Mercury News

Now in paperback, here is the stunning true tale of a remarkable woman trained as an elite soldier in the Chinese army, her forbidden love for an American, and her seemingly impossible escape-with his help-from the nation to which she had pledged her life. An astonishing testament...

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Overview

The critically acclaimed memoir of a forbidden love affair in communist China

"An important work."-San Francisco Chronicle

"Riveting."-Kirkus Reviews

"This memoir is a must-read."-San Jose Mercury News

Now in paperback, here is the stunning true tale of a remarkable woman trained as an elite soldier in the Chinese army, her forbidden love for an American, and her seemingly impossible escape-with his help-from the nation to which she had pledged her life. An astonishing testament to the enduring resilience of love and the human spirit in the face of even the most oppressive, hopeless conditions, Daughter of China offers a compelling look at life inside the rigid walls of Communist China, revealing in fascinating detail Meihong Xu's inculcation into the system-a process so effective that she would willingly betray a friend or family member to prove her loyalty. Written with clear-eyed candor and stark eloquence, Daughter of China is at once a timeless, deeply moving story of a prohibited love affair and a dramatic depiction of life under Chinese Communism.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"I thought Robert Frost was one of the greatest Communist poets who ever lived." Having left her farm village in 1981 at age 17 to join the People's Liberation Army (PLA), Lieutenant Xu was one of an elite corps of girls selected to become intelligence agents--those who viewed "the road less traveled" as the correct Communist path. Xu married Lin Cheng, a glamorous PLA man whom she saw only twice a year, since their training came first. After befriending coauthor Engelmann in a student exchange program, she was designated an "Enemy of the People" for divulging state secrets to him. Although she had never slept with the American, she was ordered to "confess" that he had raped her. After eight weeks of interrogation, Xu was expelled from the Party and the army. Lin divorced her, Engelmann married her and she was granted an exit visa and warned, "You may be leaving China...[but] your family is still here. Don't forget that, ever." Xu's refusal to name names only temporarily saved her mentor, "the General"--the probable grantor of her passport--who soon "disappeared." Xu's memoir reads like a political thriller with an inconsistent narrator. She admits to lying but shows integrity in protecting the General and her family. Constant shifts in chronology, repetition and nameless key characters don't help. However, the ground-level view she offers of the Cultural Revolution, the democracy movement, the Tiananmen Square massacre and the hints of struggle among the top leadership will fascinate those familiar with Chinese politics. Ultimately, Xu's is not a love story (she has divorced Engelmann and now works in computers); it is a survival story. Agent, Sandra Dijkstra. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This is not your typical love story. In 1988, Xu, a young, married Chinese military intelligence officer studying at the Center for Chinese and American Studies in Nanjing, fell in love with Engelmann, one of her American professors. Their reckless behavior brought down the wrath of the Chinese authorities, who, suspecting an espionage connection, arrested her and had him expelled from China. After numerous harrowing experiences (told, in this frustrating narrative, alongside flashbacks from Xu's earlier life), the lovers are miraculously reunited, marry, and move to America. (They eventually divorce in 1999.) Much of the information contained here, if true, tells an interesting tale about the workings of Chinese military intelligence education. But the problem with this thrilling tear-jerker is that it is almost impossible to distinguish truth from fiction in a story told by a self-admitted accomplished liar. The book is marred by mendacity, inconsistencies, and improbabilities: Caveat lektor.--Steven I. Levine, Mansfield Ctr., Missoula, MT Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Both the memoir of a young Chinese peasant girl coming of age during the Cultural Revolution and a cross-cultural tragic romance which depicts the struggle between love for another individual and loyalty to one's country. Meihong begins life as an enthusiastic recruit of the People's Liberation Army, but she possesses a quickness of observation and critical insight which makes it impossible for her not to pick up on the many hypocrisies involved in her PLA training. One of the more revealing moments of the narrative is the drunken rebellion of a class of graduating seniors who have just learned that they will be sent to Tibet instead of being assigned the important posts that they were promised at the beginning of the training. After virtually destroying the camp, many of the soldiers end up deserting from the army before they reach their remote posts. The army does little to retaliate against the new graduates as they do not wish to offend their powerful families nor call attention to the unpopularity among the troops of the action against Tibet. Meihong continues to file her falsely positive reports, in order to please her superior officers, and is eventually graduated as a young army officer. In 1988, Meihong is assigned to the Center for Chinese and American Studies, a joint venture between Nanjing University and Johns Hopkins, where she meets and falls in love with Larry Engelmann, a visiting American. Her betrayal is discovered by the secret police, and she is arrested and interrogated for being involved with an enemy agent. Although her life is spared, her career is ruined, and her future possibilities are very limited upon her release. She is eventually able to get a message toEngelmann, and the two are married in 1990 after great bureaucratic difficulties. Not much as a sophisticated history or political analysis of China, but a fairly riveting love story nevertherless.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471390190
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 10/3/2000
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 360
  • Sales rank: 852,453
  • Product dimensions: 5.75 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Meihong Xu joined the People's Liberation Army when she was seventeen and received her B.A. from the Institute of International Relations in Nanjing. Larry Engelmann is a professor of history at San Jose State University and a journalist. He is also the author of four previous books, including the New York Times Notable Book, The Goddess and the American Girl. They both live in San Jose, California.

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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


i


The room is small. It's like countless similar rooms I've seen in military barracks scattered across China. At some earlier time the room probably housed eight enlisted men. Tonight there are only four beds in the room—two of them pushed side by side against each of the longer walls. The narrow window has been nailed shut and old copies of The People's Liberation Army Daily have been pasted over the glass.

    Three female soldiers assigned to guard me perch close together on the bed nearest the door and occasionally whisper to each other. They never divert their gaze from me. Two armed soldiers are pacing back and forth in the hall outside.

    Wearing only khaki trousers, a blouse and sandals, I sit on the bed farthest from the door. I fold my arms tightly over my breasts in a futile effort to stay warm. The faint flickering vapor of my breath, as delicate and transparent as life itself, blurs my view of the guards for a moment every time I exhale. Soon, I lose interest in them and stare only at the chipped concrete floor and wait.

    Before long, I know, there will be footsteps in the hall followed by an insistent knock on the door. A guard will stand and unlock the bolt with a key fastened to her belt. More guards will then enter the room and announce my name. I will stand and be led from the room and down the hall, surrounded by all the guards, to another door. I can see it happening. We pass through the swinging double doors and into the darkness outside, quickly transformed into mere silhouettes in a grimlittle parade. We walk away from blades of light that knife through the shaded windows of the barracks to provide the only illumination outside. As if on signal, the guards stop and step away from me. We are in an open space and I face away from the light and wait. I can barely see the ground, which is hard and sharp and shines with a slick skin of ice. The sky is starless. I hear footsteps behind me and then someone pushes me to a kneeling position. My arms are pulled back hard and tightly bound together behind me. I am painfully aware of the sound of my own breathing and I feel the anxious flutter of my heart. The others are impatient. They want to be finished with this unpleasant business and get back inside. I gaze at the ice and wait to hear the rustle of clothing when one of the soldiers raises his hand and holds his pistol a few inches from the back of my head. There is a momentary muted crunch of ice and snow beneath the boots of the others as they step away to avoid being soiled with my blood. Then there is complete stillness. I close my eyes tightly. I think of him one last time—my American. As I remember him—at this moment—will my thoughts fly to him? Will he hear my last unspoken words? Will he whisper my name when I fall? Will he remember me?

    My military records will be purged. No documentary evidence of my career or my crime will remain. I will be erased from existence and become a nonperson. My family and friends will be told that I disappeared. They know what that means. They will not ask questions and will not speak my name aloud for a long time. When they mourn me it will be secretly and in silence.

    These are my expectations as I sit in this room with my three guards. I force my mind to shuffle quickly through a hundred memories of happier times, searching for something I can hold on to, something to take me away from this room. Yet I can't completely push from my mind the bleak reality of the present.

    I find again in my memory the face of the American. His eyes are so blue tonight. He smiles. I see his lips move but I no longer hear his voice. I know I will never see him or hear him or hold him again. His eyes close, his face fades, and he is gone.

    The sound of footsteps in the hall is the measured rhythm of death approaching. Each second is precious now. I know a few words might save my life, alter my fate. But I can never say those words. I cannot betray those I love, not even to save myself. I am even unable to betray those I now know have betrayed me.

    My thoughts come to rest on a familiar memory. Lishi! I see my village—Lishi—and I remember once more the story of the little girls who were lost in the fires. How many times have I heard the tale of their courage in the face of death? How could I have forgotten? Now I wonder if I have that same courage. I think of my aunt in Lishi. In my refusal to betray those I love, aren't I like her? On this night, surrounded by those who denounce me, isolated from everyone I care about, without hope, condemned—do I feel at last what she felt? I sense something like pride and hope rising within me, filling me with strength. I am suddenly comforted. I am not afraid.


ii


We are simple people. Peasants. Our birthright and destiny is hard work. We are each born with a strong back and a strong will and we inherit a tradition of dogged persistence and resiliency. We live by the cycle of the seasons. We know when to cultivate the earth, how to nourish it and renew it. In return, it gives us sustenance.

    For sixteen centuries our village, Lishi, has survived in Jiangsu province near the shore of Mirror Lake (Lian Hu) south of the Yangtze River and west of the Grand Canal. The devastations of man and nature-floods, droughts and famines, plagues and earthquakes, wicked warlords, evil emperors, foreign devils, revolutionaries and religious fanatics—have swept back and forth across our land destroying, stealing and carrying away the handiwork of our labor. But we survive. We return to work, repair the damage and plant the grain once more. Life goes on.

    We have good fortune as well as bad, our elders constantly remind us. One follows the other, always, like the seasons, they say. Fortune, too, has its cycles. It is the way of the world. We accept it all as part of life. It is fate. And we believe in fate.

    We also believe it is important to remember and honor the courage and strength of those who lived and died here before us. Those who struggled, suffered and survived to build and plant again should never be forgotten. Their example inspires and instructs us. Memory is the sacred thread connecting us to our ancestors. Someday it will connect our descendants to us.

    There are a few particular memories, however, that are nearly unbearable. Some believe that those memories have the power to poison the present and the future. They must be told—but only with special care. They must be told even when the telling hurts, because they also explain who we are and who we are not.

    Such is the memory of December 1937, when a cycle of hope and complacency in Lishi was reversed and hell once again ruled the earth.

    It was a time of war. The villagers convinced themselves that the isolation of Lishi would deliver them from destruction. We were unimportant, after all, in the larger scheme of things. We were not a great prize to be fought over and then held up as a trophy for the world to see. We were neither a fortress nor a great walled city like Shanghai or neighboring Nanjing. We were only peasants in a village near a road linking far more important places. We felt safe in our insignificance.

    Yet, the Japanese Imperial Army—the short devils ITL([xiao dong yang])ITL, as we called them—ignorant of our insignificance, passed through our village on their way from Shanghai to Nanjing. They did not stay in Lishi for long—less than one hour, in fact. But we will remember and retell what they did there for a thousand years.

    A road linking Shanghai to Nanjing cuts through fields south of the village. It was crowded with refugees and soldiers that December. For days the villagers watched anxiously from their fields as a stream of humanity stretching from horizon to horizon flowed steadily westward along the road. The villagers of Lishi heard tales of the monstrousness of the Japanese soldiers who had long occupied distant parts of our country. Now they were on the move again, pushing all before them as they advanced on the Nationalist capital in Nanjing and on all of the cities and towns of China beyond it.

    There were nervous murmurs about the approaching Japanese Army and calls for the villagers to abandon everything and join the mass exodus. Yet there was also uncertainty and fear about leaving the village. "Is it really necessary?" people asked. "Where will we go? How will we live? What will we eat? How long will we be gone? Wouldn't it be safer hiding in the fields until the short devils have passed?" The village was far from the main road. Travelers seldom noticed Lishi. If there were no smoke from the cooking fires and if everyone in the village hid from sight, there was the distinct possibility—indeed, the probability—that the short devils would not stop.

    Several young villagers, unconvinced of the wisdom of remaining in Lishi, panicked and decided to join the jumble of soldiers and refugees on the road. They quickly packed their possessions in blankets and baskets, bound their children on their backs, said goodbye and departed. None of them returned. Those who remained in Lishi prepared to hide in their homes or to conceal themselves along the dikes or in ruts in the fields and wait for the short devils to pass, exactly as our ancestors had done when barbarian invaders approached and then passed on.

    After several days the throng on the road thinned and then disappeared. In the distance, a short time later, the villagers watched thick columns of smoke rise slowly to hang like gigantic black ribbons suspended from hooks in heaven. They listened to the distant deep thunder of big guns and occasionally saw bright flashes of light on the horizon. Again and again they felt the earth trembling beneath their feet. They extinguished all cooking fires so no sign of life could be detected.

    As they prepared to go into hiding, some of the villagers saw a lone Chinese soldier, lost and confused, stumbling through the nearby fields. The men chased him down and cornered him. He was just a boy—no more than sixteen years old—and he was terrified and trembling. They attempted to question him, but he could not understand a word of the village dialect. With exaggerated gestures coupled with some common Mandarin idioms they succeeded, they thought, in communicating with him briefly. They were quite sure he said that the short devils had halted and Chinese armies were advancing from the north and east. The short devils were retreating toward Shanghai!

    It was possible, they told each other. There were Chinese armies in Nanjing and Zhenjiang under capable commanders. And if those armies were advancing, then there was no reason for the villagers to hide. When the boy left in a hurry, the villagers concluded that he was on his way to rejoin his unit.

    They returned to the village with good news. A delegation was hastily assembled to welcome the Chinese troops and to offer them food and assistance. A half dozen elders were selected to carry the message and they hurried across a field, over a dike and down several winding paths to the main road. They were followed by a boy, a grandson of one of the men, who wanted to see the Chinese soldiers.

    When the delegation arrived at the road there was no sign of an army approaching from the north. So they waited. After half an hour they saw a long double line of men stretching all the way to the horizon, walking behind a column of trucks and cars and motorcycles approaching them not from the north but from the south. One of the elders said, "This is impossible. This cannot be happening." Those were his last words.

    In the village people stood together waiting for the elders to return. Then they heard distant gunfire. A few minutes later the boy returned alone, crying and out of breath. There was no Chinese army, he screamed. There were only the short devils, thousands and thousands of them. The elders were all dead. The boy had seen the short devils order them to kneel in the road, and then shoot them and stab them with long knives and run them over with their trucks. Now the short devils were searching everywhere. They were spreading out across the fields and would be in the village within minutes.

    The wives and children of the murdered elders cried out. Some tried to break away and run to the road but were restrained. The important thing now was to save the living.

    It was too late to try to run away. One of the older women suggested a plan. Since the Japanese soldiers always looked first for the young girls, they were in the greatest danger, she said. They had to be hidden quickly. The villagers decided to conceal them in the stacks of rice straw around the village. Everyone else would hide in their homes until the danger passed.

    Bundled in extra layers of clothing, all the young village girls were quickly buried inside the haystacks. The youngest girls were placed beside older sisters in the haystacks—two or three of them together—so they could be calmed and kept quiet if they became frightened. The girls were told not to move or make a sound and most important not to come out until their parents returned to uncover them. In only a few minutes, more than fifty girls were buried in the haystacks. The debris that might indicate the stacks had been disturbed was carefully picked up or swept aside. When they were convinced their meticulous deception could not be detected, the villagers scattered to their homes, blocked the doors and huddled under their tables and beds or crouched in corners, clinging together in terror waiting for the short devils to pass them by.

    Minutes later they heard the first voices outside shouting in a language they did not understand. A dog barked. There was the sharp report of a rifle and the barking stopped. Then there were more shouts mixed with sudden bursts of laughter. Soldiers entered dwellings, kicked the doors open, turned over tables and pots, broke water jars. A group of soldiers found several large urns of rice in one home. They removed the covers and took turns urinating in the urns. In other homes the soldiers paused long enough to lower their trousers and defecate. Inside their homes, the villagers huddled together in terror and waited for death to find them. Many kept their eyes closed tightly and covered themselves with blankets as if this might in some way ward off the short devils or hasten their departure. The soldiers found them and ripped the covers away and laughed at them, imitated their terrified expressions and then laughed even louder. The frightened villagers whimpered and squealed and clung desperately to each other. The soldiers punched them and jabbed them with their rifles and then kicked them and spit on them. The villagers made no sound except for the chattering of their teeth.

    A soldier found a small boy under a large iron wok inside one home. He picked up the boy and carried him to the other soldiers and asked him several questions. The boy stared at them wide-eyed. He understood nothing they said. The soldiers made hand motions, and spoke slowly, scrunching up their faces and speaking in a soft soprano voice like a young girl. The boy said nothing. Suddenly, a soldier noticed something unusual. He carefully plucked several strands of rice straw from the boy's hair and then examined his jacket and shoes, where he found more straw. He said something to the others excitedly, and then pointed to the nearby haystacks. The soldiers laughed again as if they'd stumbled onto the obvious solution to a riddle. They walked to the nearest haystacks. A soldier plunged his arm into the hay, felt around and pulled out nothing but a fistful of straw. He gave his comrades a melodramatic look of disappointment. He walked partway around the haystack and repeated his action. This time he jerked his hand out suddenly, jumped back several feet and gasped, "Ahhhh!" He examined his fingers and then glared at the haystack while speaking to himself in low angry tones. He shouted at the haystack as if it were a living thing. He listened for a response. Silence. He shouted out an order at the haystack and the unusual shifting tone of his voice indicated that he intended to tease as well as to threaten. Again there followed only a hollow echo of his own words. Then he affixed a bayonet to the end of his rifle and prodded a haystack with it. He found nothing. He shook his head in disgust. Then, impatiently, he stepped to another and jabbed the bayonet in again and again, more forcefully each time. There was no sound, no movement, no resistance to the long pointed blade. But after jabbing a fourth haystack he saw something unusual, examined his bayonet closely and held it out for the others to see. There was a vermilion smear along the entire length of blade. He turned and shouted at the haystack. Again silence. Then he shouldered his rifle, aimed it and fired it into the haystack. There was still no movement. A soldier emerged from a house carrying a can of kerosene. The other soldiers saw him and gave a shout of approval. He sprinkled the kerosene on all of the haystacks and then struck matches and ignited the hay. The kerosene-fed fires blossomed quickly. There was still no sound or movement from the haystacks. After staring at the blazing mounds for several minutes, the soldiers moved on.

    Later, after it was dark and there was no sound of the intruders, some of the bolder villagers peered outside. When they were sure it was safe they ran from house to house and shouted to the others that the short devils were gone. Then they saw the smoke and the glowing embers where the haystacks had been. Some of the women screamed the names of their daughters and some fainted and fell to the ground. Others raced to what remained of the haystacks and with pitchforks and shovels and bare hands pawed madly through them. They blistered and burned their hands and arms but didn't feel the pain. A fetid greasy smoke hung in the cold night air and engulfed the fields and the distraught villagers. They breathed the smoke and choked on it and cried and kept calling out the names of the girls and continued digging. Their faces reddened and then blackened and their hair singed and crackled as they dug frantically through the glowing pyres.

    The fields were a wasteland of ashes and the charred cadavers of their daughters and sisters. In some places they found a tangle of bones and the blackened flesh of the little girls who had clung to each other as the fires consumed them. Mothers and fathers tried to pick up what remained of the bodies, but it fell apart in their hands like overcooked meat.

    They sifted through the debris again and again that night and searched along the dikes and in the fields crying and shouting the names of the girls, hoping to find some little girl who might have escaped. But the round-faced little girls of Lishi were all gone. None escaped.

    The remains of the girls were gathered the next day and buried in a common grave on a slight rise overlooking Mirror Lake. The bodies of the murdered elders were also recovered and buried near the girls. The past and future of the village all seemed to have died on the same day.

    On that day the village of Lishi became another open wound on the ravaged body of China. In the lives of the villagers who survived the short devils that day there would be an emptiness, an ache, that would, as long as they lived, remind them of their loss.

    When my mother was born in the spring of 1941, the burning of the little girls in the haystacks was still a fresh wound. Her parents named her Yingdi. Ying means "hero" and "di" indicated that they hoped she might soon be joined by a brother. A cousin born six months later was also a girl. She was named Lingdi, or "lead to a brother." There had been an older child in Lingdi's family—a girl—but she was killed in the burning haystacks by the short devils. In the next years both families were blessed with sons and the two girls survived to greet and help raise and serve their younger brothers.

    Four years after the defeat of the Japanese, the Communist armies liberated China from the Nationalists. When the liberators passed down the road near Lishi, Yingdi and Lingdi dressed in their finest clothes and danced and sang with other village children and threw flowers at the feet of the soldiers. Later they joined the Young Pioneers and became leaders in the Communist youth movement. In their late teens the girls became members of the Communist Party and prominent pillars in the local red brigade.

    In late 1960, two years after the start of the Great Leap Forward, the two girls, aged nineteen, left the village, which was suffering from a severe and prolonged famine. In those years many villagers starved to death. Others whose families had survived in Lishi for hundreds of years departed. There was no food, they pointed out, and they chose to beg on the roads or in the streets of Shanghai or Nanjing and survive on handouts rather than to sit and quietly starve to death in the village. Those who left for the cities, like those who fled to Nanjing in 1937, never returned.

    Yingdi and Lingdi succeeded in getting train passes and traveled thousands of kilometers away to Shenyang, where they found work in a textile factory. They labored there for three years. Each month they mailed home all but a small portion of their earnings. They ate only one meal each day—a breakfast consisting of thin rice soup. After work they were too hungry and exhausted to do anything but return to their dormitory room and sleep. But the girls gladly made this sacrifice for their families and for the village. They knew that their absence from Lishi was a blessing to the villagers since there were fewer mouths to feed and the money they sent home could be used to buy food on the black market.

    They returned to the village in the late spring of 1962 and both of them married. Yingdi, my mother, married a young man from the village who was trained as a veterinarian. She worked in the fields as a peasant on the collective farm that had been established after liberation. Lingdi, my aunt, married a man from Shanghai who had been a capitalist before liberation. He had been sent by the Communist Party to our village for reeducation through labor in the fields. His family, two generations earlier, had lived in Lishi. He was accustomed to a soft life in the city and was unhappy in our village. He was never a good worker. But the villagers accepted him because his roots were in Lishi. They believed that marriage to Lingdi would help enlighten him, that he would see the necessity and honor of common labor and the wisdom of the dictates of the Party. They thought that in time he would respect the village as Lingdi did and would then carry his own weight.

    I was born on December 6, 1963. My younger brother was born in 1965 and my sister in 1968. Lingdi and her husband had no children.

    Four years after she had married him, Lingdi's husband announced that he wanted a divorce. A divorce was difficult to obtain in China in those days unless one was a high-ranking Party cadre. A serious complaint was required before officials granted any divorce. But Lingdi's husband, who wanted to return to Shanghai and did not want to take his illiterate peasant wife with him, had just such a complaint.

    To all outward appearances, Lingdi was a perfect wife. She was a hard worker and a good cook and always kept her small home clean. She was a leader in community activities. Her only outward shortcoming was that she was childless, a source of deep unhappiness for her. But the inability to bear a child was not considered an acceptable reason for a divorce.

    When Lingdi's husband appeared before officials to apply for a divorce he was asked the reason for his petition. "My wife is not totally a woman," he said.

    A moment of silence followed his blunt allegation. The officials were not sure what to make of his words. One of them asked, "What do you mean your wife is not totally a woman?"

    "I mean she is also a man," he said. "And she cannot serve me as a wife and cannot provide me with children. She is neither a woman nor a man. She is both. And I can no longer share a bed with her."

    The officials were stunned and scandalized by this revelation. During the next few hours the story spread quickly. Soon everyone whispered about it, some blushed at the accusation, some shook their heads in disbelief or laughed out loud. Lingdi became an object of curious attention. When she was told of her husband's complaint she went inside her house, closed the door and stayed there for several days, too ashamed to venture into the fields or the market or to attend Party rallies.

    Within days a pair of solemn Party officials called at her home to notify her officially of her husband's petition. "These are serious charges," they advised her. Lingdi was silent as they described, as delicately as possible, the details of her husband's petition.

    She understood little of the things that the two men told her. But she knew enough to be humiliated as she listened to their words. When asked if what her husband said was true, she said nothing.

    The officials realized that she would not respond to their questions directly. They said there was a way to demonstrate that her husband's charges were not true. She could visit a physician in Danyang—a female physician, they emphasized—for a physical examination. She had the right, of course, to refuse. But if she refused, she was told, the officials could only assume that her husband's charge was true, and in that case the divorce would be granted.

    Ashamed as well as frightened, she stayed in Lishi. Six weeks later, Lingdi's husband was granted his divorce. He departed immediately for Shanghai. We never heard of him again.

    In the next years, Lingdi's life was particularly dismal. Villagers whispered and joked about her. Many of them avoided associating with her in any way. Occasionally, when Lingdi was working in her garden or in the common fields on the collective, some of the children threw stones at her when her back was turned, called her names, and ran away. She was suddenly an outcast in the village where her family had lived for centuries and where she had always been a model daughter, Party member, worker and wife.

    She never again visited the community bath. She hid her body from the prying eyes of other women. She no longer went swimming with the other village women in Mirror Lake. She became increasingly isolated.

    Yet she struggled to remain a perfect Party member. Invariably she was the first to arrive at Party meetings and the last to leave. She worked hard in the fields. Yet fewer and fewer villagers openly expressed praise or admiration for her as they had in the past.

    As I grew older, I became aware that Lingdi paid lots of attention to me. She gave me gifts—new shoes and pencils, paper, ink and brushes for school. I had never owned real leather shoes until Lingdi gave me a pair. My favorite gifts were always the children's storybooks she bought for me.

    Shortly after the birth of my younger sister, Lingdi visited my mother. She was lonely, she confessed, and her personal life was empty. She wanted a child. "I would like you to give me Meihong to be my daughter," she said. She could provide for me better than my parents could, she said. She also pointed out that she needed someone to care for her and provide for her in her old age.

    My mother, surprised by the request, promised to discuss it with my father. She said she understood Lingdi's feelings. Everyone needed a child to look after them in their later years. At first my father said he would never give away any of his children. My mother wept out of pity for Lingdi and reminded him of her kindness and her constant loneliness. Finally, my father agreed that if Lingdi would take my younger sister, then perhaps they might come to an agreement.

    When Lingdi was offered my sister, she said no. She said she wanted only me. My father refused. So there was nothing more to talk about on the subject. Throughout the years, however, Lingdi treated me as her daughter, providing me with school supplies, books and clothing. Many times she walked me to school and then in the evening walked me home again. On rainy days she held an umbrella over me on the way to school. On holidays she bought special gifts for me. I enjoyed her attention and I responded to it. She took me to Party meetings and often cooked my favorite dishes for me in her home.

    My mother had three children to care for and Lingdi's attention to me helped ease her burdens. Sometimes, however, she was uncomfortable with Lingdi's special treatment of me. She asked her several times not to give me so many things. I was being spoiled, she feared, and my younger brother and sister were becoming jealous. Again, my mother offered my sister to Lingdi to raise as her own child. But again Lingdi refused. She only wanted me, she said.

    During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966, there was heightened political activity throughout China. Gradually, people everywhere in the nation were swept up in fervent revolutionary rapture. At night there were torchlight parades and rallies and denunciations of revisionists, rightists, capitalist roaders and landlords. Traveling groups of dramatists, dancers, singers and students stopped in the village to perform or harangue or encourage us to be ever more red. Huge banners glorifying Chairman Mao and other leaders decorated the villages. On weekends, children were organized to scour the surrounding area in search of landlords plotting to undermine and overturn the revolution. It was an exciting time to be a child as we formed our own platoons to hunt down the duplicitous monsters in our midst.

     Then a troubling series of incidents began. Just as the posters appeared praising Mao and the revolution, counterrevolutionary graffiti appeared in the villages. Some of it was simple: a picture of Chairman Mao or Comrade Jiang Qing, his wife, had an X across it, as if they were executed criminals. Several smaller posters appeared later stating simply, "Down with Mao. Down with Jiang Qing. Down with the Party."

    The source of these counterrevolutionary signs was a mystery. Mass meetings were held to show the defaced banners and graffiti, and to denounce those responsible.

    No one was above suspicion—not even a respected teacher. At this time, one of the girls in my school had difficulty learning to write Chinese characters. We were learning the characters for "Chairman Mao." The two characters for "Chairman" are difficult to make and she always wrote the second one incorrectly. The teacher corrected her writing by putting an X through the incorrect character and then writing the correct one beside it. The next day the teacher was sent into the fields to work as a peasant and was replaced by someone more politically astute.

    The anti-Mao graffiti continued. Chairman Mao's name appeared on a wall with a question mark following it. Meetings were called at the school, and we were told that this was a most serious crime. We were asked individually if we had written the counterrevolutionary slogans, or if we knew who might have done this. We were admonished to watch each other, to report any suspicious statements or actions of our classmates and our family.

    We attended political rallies each day at school. Regular classes were suspended and political struggle became our obsession. We sang-or rather we shouted—revolutionary songs and denunciations of rightists. Yet the counterrevolutionary graffiti continued. And whenever it appeared all of the students were once again marched outside to examine the signs and slogans and try to identify the handwriting.

    Red Guards and Party cadres collected samples of the writing of everyone in the village and studied it for telltale signs of the culprit. But they could not find the guilty party. Teachers were asked to guess who was doing the writing and the individuals named were detained and grilled for hours. Yet nothing seemed to discourage the clever counter-revolutionary.

    Then late one night we were awakened by someone pounding on the door of our home. A Party cadre had come to summon my mother to an emergency meeting at brigade headquarters. My mother was chief of the local brigade. My brother and I were so anxious about the unusual midnight caller that we couldn't go back to sleep. We were sure the Americans or the Russians had invaded China and that soon we would be hunting down enemy spies trying to infiltrate our village.

    My mother returned several hours later. I listened from my bed as she whispered nervously to my father. She was obviously very upset. I asked what had happened. She refused to tell me. She said only that there would be no school that day and in the morning there was to be a public rally. Everyone in the three villages of the brigade was required to attend.

   The rally was held in the large open area where crops were stored and where general Party gatherings were convened. It began at 8 A.M. and everyone in the brigade was in attendance, even infants carried by their parents. Villagers stood around in clusters speaking in low tones or sat on the ground and waited and talked about the mysterious news that was about to be revealed to them. A somber Party official finally appeared, mounted the small wooden stage that stood at one end of the square and announced that the meeting was postponed for a half hour. Later he announced a second postponement and then a third and a fourth. People grew increasingly uneasy and impatient. Each time the official came onto the stage he was very serious. I had seen this demeanor and heard this tone of voice in the past when someone was to be executed or punished severely for counterrevolutionary activities.

    Then the local Party secretary came to the stage. She announced that the criminal responsible for the anti-Chairman Mao graffiti had been identified. This was a serious crime, she screeched through a large megaphone, and the arrest of the criminal represented a great victory for the revolution. She confessed that the Party cadres and Red Guards had never guessed how such a class enemy could be concealed so discreetly in our midst.

    Then she shouted out triumphantly, "The class enemy is—Xu Lingdi! Down with Xu Lingdi! Down with Xu Lingdi!"

    There was a moment of silence and a loud gasp of astonishment from the crowd—as if they'd just witnessed some supernatural phenomenon. But within moments everyone joined in the chant "Down with Xu Lingdi! Down with Xu Lingdi!" which became louder each time it was repeated.

(Continues...)

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Table of Contents

Red Aunt.

Winter.

True Lies.

First Love.

The General.

The American.

Lost Girl.

Mao's Child.

Twelve Pandas.

Remember.

Another World.

Afterword by Larry Engelmann.

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First Chapter

Chapter 1
RED AUNT

The past, like a cricket in the corner
Whines in its low, persistent voice.
SHU TING

The room is small. It's like countless similar rooms I've seen in military barracks scattered across China. At some earlier time the room probably housed eight enlisted men. Tonight there are only four beds in the room two of them pushed side by side against each of the longer walls. The narrow window has been nailed shut and old copies of The People's Liberation Army Daily have been pasted over the glass.

Three female soldiers assigned to guard me perch close together on the bed nearest the door and occasionally whisper to each other. They never divert their gaze from me. Two armed soldiers are pacing back and forth in the hall outside.

Wearing only khaki trousers, a blouse and sandals, I sit on the bed farthest from the door. I fold my arms tightly over my breasts in a futile effort to stay warm. The faint flickering vapor of my breath, as delicate and transparent as life itself, blurs my view of the guards for a moment every time I exhale. Soon, lose interest in them and stare only at the chipped concrete floor and wait.

Before long, I know, there will be footsteps in the hall followed by an insistent knock on the door. A guard will stand and unlock the bolt with a key fastened to her belt. More guards will then enter the room and announce my name. I will stand and be led from the room and down the hall, surrounded by all the guards, to another door. I can see it happening. We pass through the swinging double doors and into the darkness outside, quickly transformed into mere silhouettes in a grim little parade. We walk away from blades of light that knife through the shaded windows of the barracks to provide the only illumination outside. As if on signal, the guards stop and step away from me. We are in an open space and I face away from the light and wait. I can barely see the ground, which is hard and sharp and shines with a slick skin of ice. The sky is starless. I hear footsteps behind me and then someone pushes me to a kneeling position. My arms are pulled back hard and tightly bound together behind me. I am painfully aware of the sound of my own breathing and I feel the anxious " flutter of my heart. The others are impatient. They want to be finished with this unpleasant business and get back inside. I gaze at the ice and wait to hear the rustle of clothing when one of the soldiers raises his hand and holds his pistol a few inches from the back of my head. There is a momentary muted crunch of ice and snow beneath the boots of the others as they step away to avoid being soiled with my blood. Then there is complete stillness. I close my eyes tightly. I think of him one last time " my American. As remember him " at this moment " will my thoughts fly to him? Will he hear my last unspoken words? Will he whisper my name when I fall? Will he remember me?

My military records will be purged. No documentary evidence of my career or my crime will remain. will be erased from existence and become a nonperson. My family and friends will be told that I disappeared. They know what that means. They will not ask questions and will not speak my name aloud for a long time. When they mourn me it will be secretly and in silence.

These are my expectations as I sit in this room with my three guards. I force my mind to shuffle through a hundred memories of happier times, searching for something I can hold on to, something to take me away from this room. Yet can't completely push from my mind the bleak reality of the present.

I find again in my memory the face of the American. His eyes are so blue tonight. He smiles. I see his lips move but no longer hear his voice. I know I will never see him or hear him or hold him again. His eyes close, his face fades, and he is gone.

The sound of footsteps in the hall is the measured rhythm of death approaching. Each second is precious now. know a few words might save my life, alter my fate. But can never say those words. I cannot betray those I love, not even to save myself. I am even unable to betray those I now know have betrayed me.

My thoughts come to rest on a familiar memory. Lishi! I see my village - Lishi - and I remember once more the story of the little girls who were lost in the fires. How many times have I heard the tale of their courage in the face of death? How could I have forgotten? Now wonder if I have that same courage. I think of my aunt in Lishi. In my refusal to betray those I love, aren't I like her? On this night, surrounded by those who denounce me, isolated from everyone care about, without hope, condemned " do I feel at last what she felt? I sense something like pride and hope rising within me, willing me with strength. I am suddenly comforted. I am not afraid.

We are simple people. Peasants. Our birthright and destiny is hard work. We are each born with a strong back and a strong will and we inherit a tradition of dogged persistence and resiliency. We live by the cycle of the seasons. We know when to cultivate the earth, how to nourish it and renew it. In return, it gives us sustenance.

For sixteen centuries our village, Lishi, has survived in Jiangsu province near the shore of Mirror Lake ( Lian Hu) south of the Yangtze River and west of the Grand Canal. The devastations of man and nature " floods, droughts and famines, plagues and earthquakes, wicked warlords, evil emperors, foreign devils, revolutionaries and religious fanatics " have swept back and forth across our land destroying, stealing and carrying away the handiwork of our labor. But we survive. We return to work, repair the damage and plant the grain once more. Life goes on.

We have good fortune as well as bad, our elders constantly remind us. One follows the other, always, like the seasons, they say. Fortune, too, has its cycles. It is the way of the world. We accept it all as part of life. It is fate. And we believe in fate.

We also believe it is important to remember and honor the courage and strength of those who lived and died here before us. Those who struggled, suffered and survived to build and plant again should never be forgotten. Their example inspires and instructs us. Memory is the sacred thread connecting us to our ancestors. Someday it will connect our descendants to us.

There are a few particular memories, however, that are nearly unbearable. Some believe that those memories have the power to poison the present and the future. They must be told " but only with special care. They must be told even when the telling hurts, because they also explain who we are and who we are not.

Such is the memory of December 1937, when a cycle of hope and complacency in Lishi was reversed and hell once again ruled the earth.

It was a time of war. The villagers convinced themselves that the isolation of Lishi would deliver them from destruction. We were unimportant, after all, in the larger scheme of things. We were not a great prize to be fought over and then held up as a trophy for the world to see. We were neither a fortress nor a great walled city like Shanghai or neighboring Nanjing. We were only peasants in a village near a road linking far more important places. We felt safe in our insignificance.

Yet, the Japanese Imperial Army the short devils ( xiao dong yang) , as we called them " ignorant of our insignificance, passed through our village on their way from Shanghai to Nanjing. They did not stay in Lishi for long " less than one hour, in fact. But we will remember and retell what they did there for a thousand years.

A road linking Shanghai to Nanjing cuts through fields south of the village. It was crowded with refugees and soldiers that December. For days the villagers watched anxiously from their fields as a stream of humanity stretching from horizon to horizon " owed steadily westward along the road. The villagers of Lishi heard tales of the monstrousness of the Japanese soldiers who had long occupied distant parts of our country. Now they were on the move again, pushing all before them as they advanced on the Nationalist capital in Nanjing and on all of the cities and towns of China beyond it.

There were nervous murmurs about the approaching Japanese Army and calls for the villagers to abandon everything and join the mass exodus. Yet there was also uncertainty and fear about leaving the village. " Is it really necessary? " people asked. " Where will we go? How will we live? What will we eat? How long will we be gone? Wouldn't it be safer hiding in the fields until the short devils have passed? " The village was far from the main road. Travelers seldom noticed Lishi. If there were no smoke from the cooking fires and if everyone in the village hid from sight, there was the distinct possibility " indeed, the probability " that the short devils would not stop.

Several young villagers, unconvinced of the wisdom of remaining in Lishi, panicked and decided to join the jumble of soldiers and refugees on the road. They quickly packed their possessions in blankets and baskets, bound their children on their backs, said goodbye and departed. None of them returned. Those who remained in Lishi prepared to hide in their homes or to conceal themselves along the dikes or in ruts in the fields and wait for the short devils to pass, exactly as our ancestors had done when barbarian invaders approached and then passed on.

After several days the throng on the road thinned and then disappeared. In the distance, a short time later, the villagers watched thick columns of smoke rise slowly to hang like gigantic black ribbons suspended from hooks in heaven. They listened to the distant deep thunder of big guns and occasionally saw bright ashes of light on the horizon. Again and again they felt the earth trembling beneath their feet. They extinguished all cooking fires so no sign of life could be detected.

As they prepared to go into hiding, some of the villagers saw a lone Chinese soldier, lost and confused, stumbling through the nearby " fields. The men chased him down and cornered him. He was just a boy " no more than sixteen years old " and he was terrified and trembling. They attempted to question him, but he could not understand a word of the village dialect. With exaggerated gestures coupled with some common Mandarin idioms they succeeded, they thought, in communicating with him briefly. They were quite sure he said that the short devils had halted and Chinese armies were advancing from the north and east. The short devils were retreating toward Shanghai!

It was possible, they told each other. There were Chinese armies in Nanjing and Zhenjiang under capable commanders. And if those armies were advancing, then there was no reason for the villagers to hide. When the boy left in a hurry, the villagers concluded that he was on his way to rejoin his unit.

They returned to the village with good news. A delegation was hastily assembled to welcome the Chinese troops and to offer them food and assistance. A half dozen elders were selected to carry the message and they hurried across a field, over a dike and down several winding paths to the main road. They were followed by a boy, a grandson of one of the men, who wanted to see the Chinese soldiers.

When the delegation arrived at the road there was no sign of an army approaching from the north. So they waited. After half an hour they saw a long double line of men stretching all the way to the horizon, walking behind a column of trucks and cars and motorcycles approaching them not from the north but from the south. One of the elders said, " This is impossible. This cannot be happening. " Those were his last words.

In the village people stood together waiting for the elders to return. Then they heard distant gun fire. A few minutes later the boy returned alone, crying and out of breath. There was no Chinese army, he screamed. There were only the short devils, thousands and thousands of them. The elders were all dead. The boy had seen the short devils order them to kneel in the road, and then shoot them and stab them with long knives and run them over with their trucks. Now the short devils were searching everywhere. They were spreading out across the fields and would be in the village within minutes.

The wives and children of the murdered elders cried out. Some tried to break away and run to the road but were restrained. The important thing now was to save the living.

It was too late to try to run away. One of the older women suggested a plan. Since the Japanese soldiers always looked first for the young girls, they were in the greatest danger, she said. They had to be hidden quickly. The villagers decided to conceal them in the stacks of rice straw around the village. Everyone else would hide in their homes until the danger passed.

Bundled in extra layers of clothing, all the young village girls were quickly buried inside the haystacks. The youngest girls were placed beside older sisters in the haystacks " two or three of them together " so they could be calmed and kept quiet if they became frightened. The girls were told not to move or make a sound and most important not to come out until their parents returned to uncover them. In only a few minutes, more than fifty girls were buried in the haystacks. The debris that might indicate the stacks had been disturbed was carefully picked up or swept aside. When they were convinced their meticulous deception could not be detected, the villagers scattered to their homes, blocked the doors and huddled under their tables and beds or crouched in corners, clinging together in terror waiting for the short devils to pass them by.

Minutes later they heard the first voices outside shouting in a language they did not understand. A dog barked. There was the sharp report of a rifle and the barking stopped. Then there were more shouts mixed with sudden bursts of laughter. Soldiers entered dwellings, kicked the doors open, turned over tables and pots, broke water jars. A group of soldiers found several large urns of rice in one home. They removed the covers and took turns urinating in the urns. In other homes the soldiers paused long enough to lower their trousers and defecate. Inside their homes, the villagers huddled together in terror and waited for death to find them. Many kept their eyes closed tightly and covered themselves with blankets as if this might in some way ward off the short devils or hasten their departure. The soldiers found them and ripped the covers away and laughed at them, imitated their terrified expressions and then laughed even louder. The frightened villagers whimpered and squealed and clung desperately to each other. The soldiers punched them and jabbed them with their rifles and then kicked them and spit on them. The villagers made no sound except for the chattering of their teeth.

A soldier found a small boy under a large iron wok inside one home. He picked up the boy and carried him to the other soldiers and asked him several questions. The boy stared at them wide-eyed. He understood nothing they said. The soldiers made hand motions, and spoke slowly, scrunching up their faces and speaking in a soft soprano voice like a young girl. The boy said nothing. Suddenly, a soldier noticed something unusual. He carefully plucked several strands of rice straw from the boy's hair and then examined his jacket and shoes, where he found more straw. He said something to the others excitedly, and then pointed to the nearby haystacks. The soldiers laughed again as if they'd stumbled onto the obvious solution to a riddle. They walked to the nearest haystacks. A soldier plunged his arm into the hay, felt around and pulled out nothing but a fistful of straw. He gave his comrades a melodramatic look of disappointment. He walked partway around the haystack and repeated his action. This time he jerked his hand out suddenly, jumped back several feet and gasped, " Ahhhh! " He examined his fingers and then glared at the haystack while speaking to himself in low angry tones. He shouted at the haystack as if it were a living thing. He listened for a response. Silence. He shouted out an order at the haystack and the unusual shifting tone of his voice indicated that he intended to tease as well as to threaten. Again there followed only a hollow echo of his own words. Then he affixed a bayonet to the end of his rifle and prodded a haystack with it. He found nothing. He shook his head in disgust. Then, impatiently, he stepped to another and jabbed the bayonet in again and again, more forcefully each time. There was no sound, no movement, no resistance to the long pointed blade. But after jabbing a fourth haystack he saw something unusual, examined his bayonet closely and held it out for the others to see. There was a vermilion smear along the entire length of blade. He turned and shouted at the haystack. Again silence. Then he shouldered his rifle, aimed it and red it into the haystack. There was still no movement. A soldier emerged from a house carrying a can of kerosene. The other soldiers saw him and gave a shout of approval. He sprinkled the kerosene on all of the haystacks and then struck matches and ignited the hay. The kerosene-fed fires blossomed quickly. There was still no sound or movement from the haystacks. After staring at the blazing mounds for several minutes, the soldiers moved on.

Later, after it was dark and there was no sound of the intruders, some of the bolder villagers peered outside. When they were sure it was safe they ran from house to house and shouted to the others that the short devils were gone. Then they saw the smoke and the glowing embers where the haystacks had been. Some of the women screamed the names of their daughters and some fainted and fell to the ground. Others raced to what remained of the haystacks and with pitchforks and shovels and bare hands pawed madly through them. They blistered and burned their hands and arms but didn't feel the pain. A fetid greasy smoke hung in the cold night air and engulfed the fields and the distraught villagers. They breathed the smoke and choked on it and cried and kept calling out the names of the girls and continued digging. Their faces reddened and then blackened and their hair singed and crackled as they dug frantically through the glowing pyres.

The fields were a wasteland of ashes and the charred cadavers of their daughters and sisters. In some places they found a tangle of bones and the blackened flesh of the little girls who had clung to each other as the fires consumed them. Mothers and fathers tried to pick up what remained of the bodies, but it fell apart in their hands like overcooked meat.

They sifted through the debris again and again that night and searched along the dikes and in the fields crying and shouting the names of the girls, hoping to find some little girl who might have escaped. But the round-faced little girls of Lishi were all gone. None escaped.

The remains of the girls were gathered the next day and buried in a common grave on a slight rise overlooking Mirror Lake. The bodies of the murdered elders were also recovered and buried near the girls. The past and future of the village all seemed to have died on the same day. On that day the village of Lishi became another open wound on the ravaged body of China. n the lives of the villagers who survived the short devils that day there would be an emptiness, an ache, that would, as long as they lived, remind them of their loss.

When my mother was born in the spring of 1941, the burning of the little girls in the haystacks was still a fresh wound. Her parents named her Yingdi. Ying means "hero" and "di" indicated that they hoped she might soon be joined by a brother. A cousin born six months later was also a girl. She was named Lingdi, or " lead to a brother. " There had been an older child in Lingdi 's family --a girl-- but she was killed in the burning haystacks by the short devils. In the next years both families were blessed with sons and the two girls survived to greet and help raise and serve their younger brothers.

Four years after the defeat of the Japanese, the Communist armies liberated China from the Nationalists. When the liberators passed down the road near Lishi, Yingdi and Lingdi dressed in their " nest clothes and danced and sang with other village children and threw flowers at the feet of the soldiers. Later they joined the Young Pioneers and became leaders in the Communist youth movement. In their late teens the girls became members of the Communist Party and prominent pillars in the local red brigade.

In late 1960, two years after the start of the Great Leap Forward, the two girls, aged nineteen, left the village, which was suffering from a severe and prolonged famine. In those years many villagers starved to death. Others whose families had survived in Lishi for hundreds of years departed. There was no food, they pointed out, and they chose to beg on the roads or in the streets of Shanghai or Nanjing and survive on handouts rather than to sit and quietly starve to death in the village. Those who left for the cities, like those who fled to Nanjing in 1937, never returned.

Yingdi and Lingdi succeeded in getting train passes and traveled thousands of kilometers away to Shenyang, where they found work in a textile factory. They labored there for three years. Each month they mailed home all but a small portion of their earnings. They ate only one meal each day " a breakfast consisting of thin rice soup. After work they were too hungry and exhausted to do anything but return to their dormitory room and sleep. But the girls gladly made this sacrifice for their families and for the village. They knew that their absence from Lishi was a blessing to the villagers since there were fewer mouths to feed and the money they sent home could be used to buy food on the black market.

They returned to the village in the late spring of 1962 and both of them married. Yingdi, my mother, married a young man from the village who was trained as a veterinarian. She worked in the fields as a peasant on the collective farm that had been established after liberation. Lingdi, my aunt, married a man from Shanghai who had been a capitalist before liberation. He had been sent by the Communist Party to our village for reeducation through labor in the fields. His family, two generations earlier, had lived in Lishi. He was accustomed to a soft life in the city and was unhappy in our village. He was never a good worker. But the villagers accepted him because his roots were in Lishi. They believed that marriage to Lingdi would help enlighten him, that he would see the necessity and honor of common labor and the wisdom of the dictates of the Party. They thought that in time he would respect the village as Lingdi did and would then carry his own weight.

I was born on December 6, 1963. My younger brother was born in 1965 and my sister in 1968. Lingdi and her husband had no children. Four years after she had married him, Lingdi's husband announced that he wanted a divorce. A divorce was difficult to obtain in China in those days unless one was a high-ranking Party cadre. A serious complaint was required before officials granted any divorce. But Lingdi's husband, who wanted to return to Shanghai and did not want to take his illiterate peasant wife with him, had just such a complaint.

To all outward appearances, Lingdi was a perfect wife. She was a hard worker and a good cook and always kept her small home clean. She was a leader in community activities. Her only outward shortcoming was that she was childless, a source of deep unhappiness for her. But the inability to bear a child was not considered an acceptable reason for a divorce.

When Lingdi's husband appeared before officials to apply for a divorce he was asked the reason for his petition. " My wife is not totally a woman, " he said.

A moment of silence followed his blunt allegation. The officials were not sure what to make of his words. One of them asked, " What do you mean your wife is not totally a woman?"

"I mean she is also a man, " he said. " And she cannot serve me as a wife and cannot provide me with children. She is neither a woman nor a man. She is both. And I can no longer share a bed with her. "

The officials were stunned and scandalized by this revelation. During the next few hours the story spread quickly. Soon everyone whispered about it, some blushed at the accusation, some shook their heads in disbelief or laughed out loud. Lingdi became an object of curious attention. When she was told of her husband's complaint she went inside her house, closed the door and stayed there for several days, too ashamed to venture into the fields or the market or to attend Party rallies.

Within days a pair of solemn Party officials called at her home to notify her officially of her husband's petition. " These are serious charges, " they advised her. Lingdi was silent as they described, as delicately as possible, the details of her husband's petition.

She understood little of the things that the two men told her. But she knew enough to be humiliated as she listened to their words. When asked if what her husband said was true, she said nothing.

The officials realized that she would not respond to their questions directly. They said there was a way to demonstrate that her husband's charges were not true. She could visit a physician in Danyang " a female physician, they emphasized " for a physical examination. She had the right, of course, to refuse. But if she refused, she was told, the officials could only assume that her husband's charge was true, and in that case the divorce would be granted.

Ashamed as well as frightened, she stayed in Lishi. Six weeks later, Lingdi 's husband was granted his divorce. He departed immediately for Shanghai. We never heard of him again.

In the next years, Lingdi's life was particularly dismal. Villagers whispered and joked about her. Many of them avoided associating with her in any way. Occasionally, when Lingdi was working in her garden or in the common fields on the collective, some of the children threw stones at her when her back was turned, called her names, and ran away. She was suddenly an outcast in the village where her family had lived for centuries and where she had always been a model daughter, Party member, worker and wife.

She never again visited the community bath. She hid her body from the prying eyes of other women. She no longer went swimming with the other village women in Mirror Lake. She became increasingly isolated. Yet she struggled to remain a perfect Party member. Invariably she was the first to arrive at Party meetings and the last to leave. She worked hard in the fields. Yet fewer and fewer villagers openly expressed praise or admiration for her as they had in the past.

As grew older, I became aware that Lingdi paid lots of attention to me. She gave me gifts " new shoes and pencils, paper, ink and brushes for school. I had never owned real leather shoes until Lingdi gave me a pair. My favorite gifts were always the children's storybooks she bought for me.

Shortly after the birth of my younger sister, Lingdi visited my mother. She was lonely, she confessed, and her personal life was empty. She wanted a child. " I would like you to give me Meihong to be my daughter,'she said. She could provide for me better than my parents could, she said. She also pointed out that she needed someone to care for her and provide for her in her old age.

My mother, surprised by the request, promised to discuss it with my father. She said she understood Lingdi's feelings. Everyone needed a child to look after them in their later years. At first my father said he would never give away any of his children. My mother wept out of pity for Lingdi and reminded him of her kindness and her constant loneliness. Finally, my father agreed that if Lingdi would take my younger sister, then perhaps they might come to an agreement.

When Lingdi was offered my sister, she said no. She said she wanted only me. My father refused. So there was nothing more to talk about on the subject. Throughout the years, however, Lingdi treated me as her daughter, providing me with school supplies, books and clothing. Many times she walked me to school and then in the evening walked me home again. On rainy days she held an umbrella over me on the way to school. On holidays she bought special gifts for me. I enjoyed her attention and I responded to it. She took me to Party meetings and often cooked my favorite dishes for me in her home.

My mother had three children to care for and Lingdi's attention to me helped ease her burdens. Sometimes, however, she was uncomfortable with Lingdi's special treatment of me. She asked her several times not to give me so many things. I was being spoiled, she feared, and my younger brother and sister were becoming jealous. Again, my mother offered my sister to Lingdi to raise as her own child. But again Lingdi refused. She only wanted me, she said.

During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966, there was heightened political activity throughout China. Gradually, people everywhere in the nation were swept up in fervent revolutionary rapture. At night there were torchlight parades and rallies and denunciations of revisionists, rightists, capitalist roaders and landlords. Traveling groups of dramatists, dancers, singers and students stopped in the village to perform or harangue or encourage us to be ever more red. Huge banners glorifying Chairman Mao and other leaders decorated the villages. On weekends, children were organized to scour the surrounding area in search of landlords plotting to undermine and overturn the revolution. It was an exciting time to be a child as we formed our own platoons to hunt down the duplicitous monsters in our midst.

Then a troubling series of incidents began. Just as the posters appeared praising Mao and the revolution, counterrevolutionary graffiti appeared in the villages. Some of it was simple: a picture of Chairman Mao or Comrade Jiang Qing, his wife, had an X across it, as if they were executed criminals. Several smaller posters appeared later stating simply,'down with Mao. Down with Jiang Qing. Down with the Party.

"The source of these counterrevolutionary signs was a mystery. Mass meetings were held to show the defaced banners and graffiti, and to denounce those responsible.

No one was above suspicion " not even a respected teacher. At this time, one of the girls in my school had difficulty learning to write Chinese characters. We were learning the characters for " Chairman Mao. " The two characters for " Chairman " are difficult to make and she always wrote the second one incorrectly. The teacher corrected her writing by putting an X through the incorrect character and then writing the correct one beside it. The next day the teacher was sent into the fields to work as a peasant and was replaced by someone more politically astute.

The anti-Mao graffiti continued. Chairman Mao's name appeared on a wall with a question mark following it. Meetings were called at the school, and we were told that this was a most serious crime. We were asked individually if we had written the counterrevolutionary slogans, or if we knew who might have done this. We were admonished to watch each other, to report any suspicious statements or actions of our classmates and our family.

We attended political rallies each day at school. Regular classes were suspended and political struggle became our obsession. We sang " or rather we shouted firevolutionary songs and denunciations of rightists. Yet the counterrevolutionary graffiti continued. And whenever it appeared all of the students were once again marched outside to examine the signs and slogans and try to identify the handwriting.

Red Guards and Party cadres collected samples of the writing of everyone in the village and studied it for telltale signs of the culprit. But they could not find the guilty party. Teachers were asked to guess who was doing the writing and the individuals named were detained and grilled for hours. Yet nothing seemed to discourage the clever counterrevolutionary.

Then late one night we were awakened by someone pounding on the door of our home. A Party cadre had come to summon my mother to an emergency meeting at brigade headquarters. My mother was chief of the local brigade. My brother and I were so anxious about the unusual midnight caller that we couldn't go back to sleep. We were sure the Americans or the Russians had invaded China and that soon we would be hunting down enemy spies trying to infiltrate our village.

My mother returned several hours later. I listened from my bed as she whispered nervously to my father. She was obviously very upset. asked what had happened. She refused to tell me. She said only that there would be no school that day and in the morning there was to be a public rally. Everyone in the three villages of the brigade was required to attend.

The rally was held in the large open area where crops were stored and where general Party gatherings were convened. It began at 8 A. M. and everyone in the brigade was in attendance, even infants carried by their parents. Villagers stood around in clusters speaking in low tones or sat on the ground and waited and talked about the mysterious news that was about to be revealed to them. A somber Party officially appeared, mounted the small wooden stage that stood at one end of the square and announced that the meeting was postponed for a half hour. Later he announced a second postponement and then a third and a fourth. People grew increasingly uneasy and impatient. Each time the official came onto the stage he was very serious. I had seen this demeanor and heard this tone of voice in the past when someone was to be executed or punished severely for counterrevolutionary activities. Then the local Party secretary came to the stage. She announced that the criminal responsible for the anti-Chairman Mao graffiti had been identified. This was a serious crime, she screeched through a large megaphone, and the arrest of the criminal represented a great victory for the revolution. She confessed that the Party cadres and Red Guards had never guessed how such a class enemy could be concealed so discreetly in our midst.

Then she shouted out triumphantly, " The class enemy is " Xu Lingdi! Down with Xu Lingdi! Down with Xu Lingdi! "

There was a moment of silence and a loud gasp of astonishment from the crowd " as if they'd just witnessed some supernatural phenomenon. But within moments everyone joined in the chant'down with Xu Lingdi! Down with Xu Lingdi! " which became louder each time it was repeated.

The words, the loud hateful chanting, hit me like fists. I became momentarily dizzy and leaned against my father. I didn't understand. stood there stunned by the sound of her name. I had never heard her say anything disparaging about the Party or Chairman Mao. On the contrary, she was the model Party member and revolutionary, the model peasant. My red aunt was a counterrevolutionary and an agent of the rightists? She had always been so kind and so generous. Maybe that was why, I thought! She had been attempting to recruit me into the ranks of the counterrevolutionaries all along.

The Party secretary waved to stop the chanting. Then she said, "Xu Lingdi has admitted her crime. She has confessed! Confessed! And she will be punished severely."

During the next days details of the arrest and confession spread through the village. From the moment the first graffiti appeared, officials began detaining and interrogating suspects. Some were held in custody for several days. The police initially pursued the most obvious suspects " a group identified as hooligans and troublemakers. These were young men who were seldom serious at rallies, flirted with the girls when they should have been paying attention to speakers, were lax in their field work and did poorly in school. Most of them dressed in a defiantly unrevolutionary style and some even curled their hair. The Party had, in response to this, decreed that no young man who curled his hair could become a member of the Communist Youth League. But the troublemakers laughed at that and told people that they were glad about the policy because they never wanted to join the League anyway. Eventually a dozen hooligans were rounded up, held in the local jail and interrogated over the course of a week. But none of them broke down and confessed, even when they were beaten.

The police were absolutely convinced that this group was guilty of at least some of the crimes. They decided to charge three of the hooligans, including my uncle, Lingdi's younger brother, with writing and posting the graffiti, and to punish them as a warning to the other criminals. The Party and police had no evidence against the young men but they did have their suspicions, which, they concluded, were as good as evidence.

During the first day of the secret trial of the boys, Lingdi appeared before the Party secretary and said that she was the real criminal. The Party secretary refused to believe her. She said she believed that Lingdi, out of a misplaced patriotic desire to save the village from denunciation by higher Party officials, was willing to take the responsibility for the crimes. It was a selfless gesture, she said, but it would not work. The authorities wanted the real criminal. Lingdi was told to return home and to stop being a nuisance by confessing to crimes she could not possibly have committed.

Lingdi persisted, nevertheless. She returned the following day and confessed again and was once more reprimanded and sent home. She returned another time with newspapers from which the pictures of Chairman Mao had been cut. She said that she had cut out the pictures and pasted them up and then x'd them out.

When the Party secretary examined the newspapers she was temporarily dumbstruck. What Lingdi said was true! After several minutes she asked how Lingdi, of all people, could do this? Lingdi only said that she was confessing because she felt that the young innocent men " including her brother " being tried for her crimes should be released. She said her mother's heart was broken by the mistreatment of her son. He was suffering for Lingdi's crimes. Lingdi was placed in a jail cell and the trial of the young men was suspended. They were sternly warned about their shocking unsocialist behavior and sent home.

Several weeks after the meeting announcing the capture and confession of Lingdi another brigade rally was held. This time, the village square was surrounded by red flags the size of bedsheets and by huge posters denouncing the crimes of Lingdi and all other enemies of the revolution. Posters proclaimed in large characters that if she was not severely punished, " the anger of the people will not cease. " One sign remember particularly proclaimed: " Xu Lingdi is a traitor! Death to Xu Lingdi!"

At the start of the rally the Party secretary and other cadres pushed Lingdi onto the stage. She was wearing a tall pointed dunce's cap and from her neck hung a placard with her name x'd out and a description of her crimes. She stumbled when she walked. She was barefoot. Her hands were bound tightly behind her at the wrists and elbows. She was bent forward at an awkward angle with her bound arms pulled up high by two women who stood behind her. She stared blankly at the ground. Whenever she raised her head just a bit, I could see that the left side of her face was swollen and bruised and her eye was completely shut. Her lips also were enlarged and cracked. She'd lost weight, and her clothes hung loosely on her body. One after another the Party cadres stepped forward, denounced her, and then slapped her face. Each time they slapped her, the crowd cheered.

Then the sentence was read: Xu Lingdi was stripped of her Party membership and sentenced to ten years in prison. She was told she was lucky to escape the death penalty.

Lingdi's mother, my mother's aunt, stood in the front row of the rally surrounded by a dozen Red Guards. She was a hardworking widow who had always worried about her childless, divorced daughter. During the denunciations and the slapping of Lingdi she became ill. She fainted and fell to the ground. She was revived and the Party cadre screamed from the stage for her to remain standing. When she tried to look away, one of the Red Guards held her by the ears and kept her facing the stage. They demanded that she denounce her daughter. In a whisper she said what they told her to say:'down with Xu Lingdi! Long live Chairman Mao! " Then she fainted again and was once more propped up by Red Guards, who continued to berate her, condemning her for fainting, shrieking that she was betraying her sympathy for a criminal. A Red Guard stepped to the stage and shouted that Lingdi's mother was firevisionist trash " and should be punished for it.

Finally Lingdi was shoved from the stage. Red Guards dragged her mother home and continued to denounce her for showing sympathy for her traitorous daughter. The next day they checked to see that she was at work in the fields beside her hooligan son, who, several days after Lingdi's arrest, was severely beaten and had his head shaved by the Red Guards. Even though he was not sent to prison, everyone agreed that he should not escape punishment.

I became the leader of the Young Pioneers in school. Each day the students read aloud short articles about things that were happening in the country. The stories always concluded with warnings about the enemies among us and then gave instructions on how to capture rightists and make them confess.

I wrote articles about Lingdi and read them aloud in class. I asserted that hated her and that all students should hate her. I had copied the articles about other accused criminals from the Party newspaper and simply changed the names. That was accepted as scholarship for the young during the Cultural Revolution. We were instructed to copy official Party publications and put our names on them and were praised for our words. Several students could write word for word the same essay, and all receive the highest grade. The teachers dared not give anything less than an A for such work, or risk their career and their lives. Those students who didn't have access to the newspapers had difficulty putting together sufficiently colorful denunciations. My father, however, received The People's Daily at his office and I had no such problems.

In one article I wrote that after the death of Lin Biao saw Lingdi " cry as hard as she would as if her own mother had died. " At that time, Lin Biao, formerly a hero of the revolution, was considered an archtraitor to Chairman Mao. copied the denunciation from the description of another woman in The People's Daily and inserted Lingdi's name in it. The teachers, as expected, lauded my plagiarism. But my mother was unhappy with the piece. She asked me to stop writing denunciations of Lingdi. "Your aunt is guilty of no crime,"she said. "None!"

I was nine years old and could not comprehend what I heard. Until that moment thought of my mother as a faithful and spotless revolutionary. Suddenly, suspected my mother was a covert counterrevolutionary, along with my formerly red aunt. It seemed obvious. They had been so close over the years. They had probably worked together to discredit Chairman Mao.

I became more suspicious when I overheard conversations between my parents late at night, when they thought was asleep. In public during the day my mother was a proper revolutionary. She was head of the Party's village committee and denounced Lingdi in meetings, but with little genuine enthusiasm, I felt. At night, with my father, I heard her say sympathetic things about my aunt. I knew my mother never lied and what heard her say about the disposition of Lingdi's case confused me. She said she knew that Lingdi was innocent. She said that it was bored teenage troublemakers who were responsible for all the anti-Mao mischief and that Lingdi took the blame for them. The boys never realized the seriousness and the consequences of what they did. They thought it was fun to stir up all the excitement about counterrevolutionary plots. Lingdi's brother had tearfully told her this, she revealed, and had asked her what he should do. She told him to say nothing more about it, ever. Nothing could be done to help Lingdi now, she said. It was too late. The Party secretary who had turned in Lingdi had become a local hero. She was praised by other Party officials and lauded at public rallies. To contradict Lingdi's tale would only undo the reputation of the Party secretary and make her lose face. That would bring more problems and other accusations. My mother was deeply troubled by the episode and by the impossibility of helping her cousin without hurting others.

She considered visiting Lingdi in prison. My parents discussed what repercussions such a visit might have on their status in the village. My father was against it. But my mother brought it up again and again and pondered the implications of such an action. n the end, she did not make the visit.

Despite what'd heard my mother say, I remained the leading student in my school in denouncing Lingdi. Not to do so would bring suspicion on myself, I felt. But was unsuccessful. After one of my more colorful denunciations, however, another girl asked if we should not be suspicious of those who were related to this traitor. We should open our eyes and look around, she suggested, and see who these people are. We should ask if these people might not try to avoid suspicion, despite the fact that they were infected with counterrevolutionary ideas, through their own criticism of Lingdi. I ignored what she said and pretended didn't understand. But was terrified by this unexpected turn in the classroom discussions. The other students looked at me differently after that, I felt.

Following the death of Mao and the fall of Jiang Qing and three of her cohorts " the Gang of Four " in the autumn of 1976, when I was twelve years old, thousands of political prisoners appealed to the government and were released. But Lingdi did not immediately appeal. She remained in prison for six years " until 1978. She had been sent to the Li Yang labor camp, about a hundred fifty " kilometers from our village, and worked in a factory there making gloves. I heard later that when they were about to set her free she asked to be allowed to remain. " I have no home but this one,'she told the camp supervisor. If she returned home it would be a shame for her elderly mother, her brother and her cousins to have her nearby. She explained that she had been an outcast in the village long before she was sentenced to the camp. She would suffer more if she was sent home than if she stayed.

The supervisor was sympathetic. But he explained that there was no policy for letting people stay in the camp who had served their time. She must return to her former work unit. The state, which had sentenced her to the camp, required that she go home. When she came home, I saw she had changed. She was thin and pale, there were streaks of gray in her hair and she stooped slightly when she walked.

As she feared, there was little forgiveness for her in Lishi. She moved into a small dwelling beside the rice paddies. In her spare time she tended her own garden. She visited her mother and cooked for her. My mother visited her, often, late at night. They sat at a table in the dark and reminisced and drank tea. My mother preferred that her visits be kept a secret and we didn't talk about it to others. Why go looking for trouble?

My aunt still liked me very much and often demonstrated it by approaching me when I was nearby and waving or motioning to me to come to her. But pretended that didn't see her. I kept my distance. was warned at school that she had a political disease, and the germs were dormant but still deadly. Anyone close to her might catch the disease and be infected by it. Like almost everyone else in the village, suspected her and I feared her.

In 1981, was one of twelve girls selected nationwide to attend the People's Liberation Army ( PLA) Institute for International Relations in Nanjing. This meant was to be inducted into the PLA just before classes began and upon graduation would be commissioned as an officer. All of the village was proud of me and celebrated. When Lingdi heard of my good fortune, she seemed more animated in her joy than anyone else in the village and asked my mother if she might give me a banquet before I left for the military academy. My mother said that the family and other friends had already taken up all of my spare time. Lingdi then suggested that she could buy me new clothing for school. My mother told her would be wearing a uniform, and had no use for new clothing.

Then late one evening as we were preparing for bed, there was a soft tapping on our door. It was Lingdi. She said she had a gift for me, and she pressed a small red envelope into my hand and left as quietly as she had come. I opened the envelope as my father and mother looked on. It contained three hundred yuan. On special celebrations, family members and relatives in the village typically gave a " ve-yuan gift, which was considered generous given the fact that an average salary in the village was about twenty yuan per month. Lingdi's gift was incredible " a huge amount of money for that time. I, as a young girl, was delighted even at holding this much in my hand. My mother insisted that I could not keep it. So we walked to my aunt's house to return the money. My mother knocked softly on the door and my aunt answered without lighting a lamp. The two cousins, more like sisters, whispered to each other in the dark as stood beside my mother. They spoke softly and rapidly, sometimes their voices breaking. My aunt didn't understand why I could not keep the money. It was her life's savings, she said. She had no use for it herself. She asked if she could buy me a watch instead. My mother said she had already given me a good watch, a Dr. Sun Yat Sen ( Zhong Shan) brand, Chinese made, that cost twenty- ve yuan, very expensive. Lingdi begged my mother to let me keep the money. My mother pushed it back again and said could not accept it. Finally, I heard my aunt's voice break and she started to cry. " I have always cherished this little girl. I wanted her since the day she was born. She is like my daughter, my only child. I am as proud as you are. I just want to contribute something to make her life easier " easier than my life. If you refuse me this, you are totally rejecting me and you are just like everyone else in this village. I will be deeply wounded."

I listened to her crying in the dark. My mother stood there, without responding, and I watched her hands gently caress Lingdi's hair. In the starlight saw the shimmer of tears on my mother's face. And then heard her say, " All right. She can keep it."

Lingdi immediately embraced me and held my hands in hers. As my mother and I walked back to our house my mother told me, " Never forget your auntie, Meihong. Never. " I could tell without looking at her that she was crying as she said this. firemember what you saw tonight. Lingdi has always treated you as her own daughter. Always. No matter what is said about her, she is a good woman. A good woman firemember that!"

Three years later, during my junior year at the military academy received a letter from my mother telling me that Lingdi was about to be married. When I returned home for the spring festival, I learned what had happened.

Lingdi was over forty-three years old at the time. She had conceded to my mother a year earlier that she wanted to be married, but there were no suitors. There was a blind man in our village, and he could find no wife. He was very lonely. My aunt let my mother know that she would marry him. My mother agreed to be the go-between and went to this man and his family. But the family felt insulted. " How dare you, " they said.'she is not even a woman! How can she marry our son? "

Lingdi's mother also opposed the idea. " You no longer need a man in your life,'she said. " You are too old now. Forget it. You have no need for that kind of trouble again. "

One year later " in 1984 " however, a suitor appeared. He was an older man " fifteen years older than Lingdi " who had been born and raised in our village, and then had moved to Shanghai, where he had become a successful manufacturer. He had four daughters who were married and lived with their husbands. His wife had died and left him alone. He wanted a wife from his home village and so he returned to Lishi to find one.

Lingdi was told of the man and she asked to be introduced to him. One afternoon he visited her. They talked all afternoon and into the evening. She prepared dinner for him and the two sat in chairs outside her house talking most of the night. They did not light the lamps when it became dark.

Then the man proposed that rather than return to the home of his relatives, he stay the night with Lingdi in her house. This was unheard of in our village.

Lingdi, naturally, had fears about this. But it was not the censure of the villagers that gave her pause at this moment. She already had that. She still had doubts, however, about her own feminine nature. Her life had been little more than misfortune and tragedy. But she had strong feelings for this man now, powerful feelings she had never before felt, and she at last said yes, he could stay in her house that night.

The next morning, as always, the adults and children walked to the open market to buy vegetables and meat for the coming day. The man from Shanghai came to the market alone, and people caught glimpses of Lingdi cooking in her house. Had he abandoned her? Was he angry? Disappointed? What had happened? Everyone was curious. But the man made his purchases, said little and returned to her house. They were not seen again that day and that night.

On the following day, again, early in the morning, he walked to the market, bought a few items, and returned to Lingdi's home. Again, they were not seen for the rest of the day and night.

On the next day he walked to the market again. Then he came to our house. He told my mother that he and Lingdi discovered that they liked each other very much. ( In the dialect of Lishi there is no word for love. In place of that word, the people use the words firespect, " like " and " cherish. " A marriage takes place between a young man and woman who " like " each other. As husband and wife they firespect " each other. Children respect their elders, and parents " cherish " their children. Words expressing stronger affections do not exist in our dialect. Some feelings, we believe, are too profound for words. ) " Thank you for introducing me to her, " he said. " We plan to marry next month and we would like you to be the witness at our wedding. "

My mother was surprised and delighted. " Good, " was all she could say. " Good.'she smiled broadly when she spoke.

"Something else, " he said.

"What is it? " my mother asked.

"About her ex-husband and the stories he told. About the divorce. You know the story, " he said.

"Yes, I heard the story, " my mother admitted, and avoided looking into his eyes.

"Well, I want you to know that man was a lying bastard. He made up that story. And Lingdi has suffered for nearly twenty years because of it. Lingdi is a woman. All woman. More than that. She is a perfect woman. "

In the next days, Lingdi's fiancee gave her a wedding ring. Few people in the village at that time could afford one. They took the train to Shanghai one morning and returned three days later with new clothes and jewelry.

I attended Lingdi's wedding. It was the first time I'd seen her in more than two years. She was smiling and laughing like a girl again. I noticed right away that she walked straighter and held her head higher. She was happier than had ever seen her before.

After their honeymoon in Shanghai, Lingdi and her husband came back to the village to live there permanently. Her husband worked in Lingdi's garden with her and in the fields beside her, like a peasant. In the summer, village women customarily carried an umbrella to protect their skin from the sun. He always carried Lingdi's umbrella for her and walked beside her. Most shocking of all, they held hands when they walked in the countryside. Sometimes they even paused and Lingdi's husband kissed her on the hand or on the cheek. The other villagers were scandalized. They had never before seen this sort of brazen public behavior. Indeed, I had never before seen a man and woman embrace or hold hands or in any way publicly reveal romantic feelings in the village. I was utterly fascinated when I watched them.

Naturally, people whispered about them. There was something very different about these two. They made others uncomfortable and jealous. In the autumn, they walked each night down the winding paths, along the shore of Mirror Lake and past the haystacks piled high in the fields. Now and then they paused and Lingdi told him things she remembered about life in the village. She told him about the time Japanese soldiers came to Lishi and about the little burned girls. One of the girls was her elder sister.

People who watched them couldn't understand why they never seemed to tire of each other's company and why they continued to behave the way they did. It was a mystery. They tried to explain it " but they couldn't.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2003

    This is real

    This book educated and entertained. Meihong Xu explains her life story so vividly and clearly. I loved the way she alternated between the the past and the present in a way that wasn't confusing. It created insight to the events that transpired. It is hard for me to fathom that the events occurred during my lifetime. It seems that such barbaric behavior can't exist in our modern world, but it does. Even though it is hard for me to grasp her life, I believed every word she wrote. I never doubted anything she said. This is very unusual to say about a Memoir. Usually memoirs are contradictory, embellished, or biased. It reads like an epic fiction with a thick plot, suspense, drama, intrigue, and heartbreaking love. At the same time providing knowledge about our world, history, and actual events.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2003

    Great!

    This book was brilliant! I've been to China around five times, and I never actually thought about people like the Colonel (someone in the book who is really 'evil') actually existed there. When I started reading it, I just kept turning the pages and sometimes, I just had to reassure myself by saying, 'She's not going to die, otherwise, how would she write the book?' Overall, I just thought that this book was really great.

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