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|Publisher:||Baker Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
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GOD'S DOUBLE AGENT
The True Story of a Chinese Christian's Fight for Freedom
By BOB FU, Nancy French
Baker BooksCopyright © 2013 Bob Fu
All rights reserved.
It was midnight. I placed my fingers on the bottom of the window and gently, quietly tried to pull it open. But years of paint had cemented it shut, so I held my breath and gave it a sharp yank. It opened at last—but not as silently as I'd hoped. I prayed that none of the police officers stationed by my building's door had decided to take a cigarette walk around the block and that none of my neighbors were awake. If I was going to do this—and survive—there could be no witnesses.
Heidi, my wife, had just left our apartment on the sixth floor, wearing a silk scarf and different clothing than she normally wore. The agents were used to seeing us as a couple, so she'd have a better chance of slipping past them without me. There were three exits to the gigantic building, but the government had shut down two of them when they began watching us. The only remaining exit was next to a room full of security guards who watched our every move. Whenever I left the building, they sent out an alert and another guard would inevitably pick up my trail. I couldn't remember what it was like to be outside in the open air without surveillance.
If Heidi's disguise didn't work, I wouldn't have much time before the agents would be on their way up to the sixth floor to arrest me—but I wouldn't be there. Heidi had purposely left on the light to mislead the spies into thinking we were still awake and milling around before bed, and I was already on the fifth floor, where I had entered the restroom. Everyone on the floor shared the same bath, and the doors to the restrooms were always unlocked. I looked out the window and couldn't see a thing, but I knew I wasn't getting the full view. My chances of survival would increase with every floor I could safely descend without being detected. I quietly slipped out of the restroom and back into the stairwell, watching the numbers decrease. Fourth floor. Third floor. Second floor. That's where I stopped. The agents were on the first floor, and at this point there was no turning back.
I gently opened the door of the stairwell, looked left and right, and slowly walked down the corridor to the bathroom. I entered a tiny toilet stall and climbed on the ledge of the window, which fortunately was already open. Even though it was August in Beijing, the breeze wafting over the sill sent a chill through me. I placed my feet as close to the edge as possible. The jump was close to twenty feet and though I couldn't see the ground, I knew there was vegetation there to help break my fall. As long as I didn't die or break any major bones, I'd be all right.
After our experience of prison and house arrest, death wasn't the worst option, but now Heidi and I had reason to fight for life. She was pregnant. In China, the government's "one child" policy meant we would be forced to abort our baby because we didn't have the proper permit. Consequently, we weren't celebrating with a baby shower, a new nursery, or by telling our parents they were about to become grandparents. In fact, if we were successful they'd probably never see their grandchild—or us. But we had no choice.
When I looked over the ledge, my glasses slipped down my nose and I pushed them back into place. Using my left hand, I held on to the windowsill, feeling woozy from the height. My legs quivered. Would I be able to do this? What would happen Bob Fu with Nancy French, God's Double Agent to Heidi and the baby if I died? I took a deep breath, said a prayer, and stepped into the darkness.
As soon as I left the ledge, I forgot all of my ideas about how to fall strategically. The wind rushed over my face, my stomach shrunk, and I felt I'd left my heart back in the building. I flailed my arms and even though I was desperate to remain silent, a yell escaped from deep within me. It sounded like it was from someone else. My glasses flew off and I vaguely remember reaching up to touch my face before everything went black.
My life's journey began even before I was born—when my mother's first husband approached her with a shocking request.
"You and the children need to leave."
Really, it wasn't a request. It was more of a demand, a desperate plea. They lived in a small house in the Shandong province of southeastern China, in the lower reaches of the Yellow River. The province is bordered by the Bohai Sea and the Yellow Sea, but their small mud home was inland, next to the wheat and corn fields so they could process—and keep watch over—the food supply. Her husband worked a small patch of land in the commune, where they lived with their two small children.
"Where will I go?" she asked, but she didn't wait for the answer. She knew. My mother shuffled around the house and picked up a few things. She could only take what she could carry, and she had to carry the younger child, just a baby, too.
That's how my mother's marriage ended, which is certainly not the way many marriages do—in the west. There were no affairs, no dramatic confrontations. Rather, the government, led by Mao Zedong, had laid its heavy hand on the villagers and strangled the life out of their marriages. In 1958, Mao performed a gigantic cultural and social experiment called the Great Leap Forward—so named because it was the "great leap" into communism. This meant my mother's husband and all of the other villagers had to give up their private property to live communally. Without personal land, they couldn't farm their own food and had no control over their own food supply. Mao, who introduced his new program by promising his nation, "It is possible to accomplish any task whatsoever," assured everyone he could produce more food through communist techniques. The government built large communal kitchens for the villagers where they would gather to eat every meal. Wonderful weather in the first growing season created much sustenance for the villagers. However, in the following years droughts and floods caused the community grain supplies to run dangerously low. That's when my mother's husband felt he had no choice. "Just go," he told her as she stood there with the kids. "I cannot feed you anymore."
She shuffled through the house one last time, and stole a glance at the bed where she had slept with her husband and kids. The children certainly wouldn't have such comforts on the street. She brushed away a tear. There was no time for such emotion now. The house had no sustenance in it anyway. The large pot that had baked their bread had long sat empty. In fact, the house had been stripped clean of everything valuable, including all metal.
Metal indicated strength, at least according to Mao, who believed a nation with more metal could build more ships, weapons, and buildings. When he ordered that all citizens give up their metal to the state, my mother had dutifully searched through her house for every ounce. She had collected pots, pans, and previously valuable farming tools and taken them to one of the many backyard steel furnaces that had popped up across the countryside. The metal scraps from all the villagers were turned into one large pile of metal, the weight of which was measured and proudly reported to the central government. The reports may have been proud, but the product was pathetic. My family's few valuable earthly goods weren't turned into battleships. Instead, they were turned into an unusable chunk of trash. These large, worthless piles sat in the villages as supposed symbols of strength, but instead they only symbolized the pain, heartache, and inefficiency of the Great Leap Forward.
They also began to symbolize death.
I don't know whether my mother was heartbroken, angry, or terrified—perhaps a combination of all three—but she took the hand of my older sister, put my brother on her back in a sling, and said, with forced cheerfulness, "Let's go for a walk."
For close to four years, she walked from one village to another, asking for food from people who couldn't spare it. Millions of people were dying in the Great Leap Forward, some say close to thirty million. That is double the number of people killed in the holocaust.
When there was nothing else available, everyone, including my mother, ate the bark off trees. But eventually that too ran out, and the once-lush countryside was full of naked trees and no vegetation. When winter came, it was even more difficult. One particularly harsh afternoon, my mother trudged through heavy snow for miles, carrying my brother and dragging my sister by the hand. Fighting for every step, they walked slowly, leaving tracks of despair across the frozen countryside. When my mother finally saw a collection of houses off in the distance, she muttered a Chinese proverb under her breath.
"Even a blind donkey can find its way home because of the guidance of heaven."
Though she was an atheist, she frequently said this proverb when it seemed as if someone were watching out for her and her two children. She'd stayed alive so far because of the kindness of strangers, and she hoped someone in the upcoming village would show her mercy as well. This slight possibility of food was enough to propel her forward through the deep, icy snow.
"Any food to spare?" she asked in the courtyard of a small house in the village. A kind man offered her a bowl of rice soup and a little bit of shelter from the elements in his courtyard. Though it wasn't much—in fact, it wasn't enough for all three of them—its warmth would help them shake the ever-present chill and possibly help them make it through another night. My mother carefully prepared to offer the broth to her infant son and daughter first. She didn't want to waste a drop.
However, just as the spoon reached the baby's mouth, a rooster came barreling toward them. Mom screamed as the big rooster knocked her down into the snow, biting and scratching at her to drive these unwanted visitors from his yard. After a scuffle, the rooster proved victorious and Mom emerged covered in blood and, even worse, the precious rice soup.
Although my mom and siblings were fighting for life each day, others had it worse. Some people boiled leather to soften it into edible strips. Many of them died as they tried to swallow the leather, and the ones who didn't choke had to ask for help to pry the solid waste from their bodies. People ate mud. Even more shocking, some ate their elderly relatives and children who'd passed away, either from natural causes or murder. In Chinese history textbooks, this time period was known as "Three Years of Natural Disaster," which, of course, hid the government's role in starving its own people. My mother did everything she could to make sure she and her children didn't become just another statistic, a number lost to history.
However, one day she began to cough, like millions of other people who'd become desperately sick because of the paucity of food and the unsanitary living conditions. Her cough got worse and never really went away. Day after day, she struggled for breath and had pain in her chest. Then one day, she coughed up blood. That's how my mother, the only caretaker of two homeless children facing down a famine, realized she had lung disease.
"Even a blind donkey can find its way home because of the guidance of heaven," she said between coughs. For years, she and the children had survived. She continued to believe something would guide her, even though her circumstances had gotten drastically worse. Someone, somewhere had taken her this far.
And she would go farther. Over the next few months, coughing and gasping, she made her way around the same little region, receiving the kindness of strangers. Eventually, she found a tiny countryside village called Shiziyuan, which meant "Persimmon Garden." This is where life changed for my mother in a very unlikely way.
"Any food to spare?" she asked, knocking on the door of a small home. The courtyard was full of fragrant persimmon trees. She was just getting ready to turn around and go to the next home when the door opened.
A tiny, hunchbacked man opened the door. He had only one good eye, which he used to assess the desperate visitors on his step. He was Fu Yubo, the village's bookkeeper.
"This is all I have," he said, offering bread to her and the children. His compassion on the sick woman with two small children was evident. Not only did he give her food, he also gave her a new life. Before long they married and my mother, after several years of living on the street, had a home. She and her new husband soon had children together. First, they had a baby girl named Qinghua, and then on July 12, 1968, they had me. They named me Xiqiu, which means "Hopeful Autumn," because July in the Chinese calendar is the fall.
Additionally, parents in the village gave their children nicknames to stave off evil spirits and bad character. Superstitiously, they believed ghosts roamed the countryside looking for children to haunt. They feared ghosts and demons might take a liking to their kids if they had nice-sounding names. Because of this, they created terrible-sounding monikers for their children. Two of my friends, for example, were called "Ugly Leaf" and "Silly Donkey" to make them as unattractive as possible to the spirit world. My nickname was Pianyi, which is translated as "Cheap." Everyone believed children would develop qualities that were the opposite of these nicknames, so I imagine my mother wanted me to have a future of soaring wealth and comfort. The indignities of begging impacted her, and she yearned for something better for us. Maybe my nickname would do the trick.
Despite my mother's illness and my father's disability, our lives were so much better. As the youngest child, I was looked after with great care by my parents, brother, and sisters. Our house had a bedroom that we all shared and a sitting room, separated by a small kitchen. The kitchen was always a place of warmth. Mom put flowers around the iron stove. We had vegetables, and flour for bread. After the main meals were cooked, the aroma of freshly baked bread would drift through the small house. We also had a little courtyard surrounded by persimmon trees.
I loved the smell of those trees as much as the smell of bread. They had glossy, broad leaves and bark like the hide of an alligator. As a small child, I would climb those trees and select the perfect persimmon specimens. The yellow persimmons weren't ripe, but the red ones ... those were ready. I held them to the sun and looked at the sky through them like kaleidoscopes. The sky looked crimson through the ripe, tender fruit. When I think of my childhood, I can taste the sugary and tangy flavor and smell the spring flowers that attracted big honeybees.
Dad kept the books for the entire village. He walked to work every day with his hands clasped behind his back, like a man on a mission, moving so fast I couldn't keep up with him. He worked all day and came home in the evenings, making the equivalent of an American dime per day. He was quite adept with the suànpán, a calculating tool used in China for thousands of years, known in other areas as an abacus. His hands moved over the beads like magic. He could add, subtract, and even divide with the beads. Dividing was very complicated but his hands did not falter as he calculated the harvests and determined the amount of food each family would receive. Though he only had six years of education, he was considered a rather educated man. He even read to me in the evenings before I went to bed.
Harvest time was the busiest season for everyone. Because agriculture was collective under Communist law, farmers couldn't grow for themselves. Instead, they grew for the government. The farmers harvested the wheat and the corn and took it to another location to process for distribution. Dad was in charge of distributing the shares of food according to head count and production, and gave families a piece of paper, similar to a coupon, which allowed them to get food like wheat, corn, sweet potatoes, and potato chips. After all of that intense work, the workers gathered to share a meal during the night. Sometimes, because they respected my father, they let me eat with them too.
Dad, because of his position, had the ability to give the poorer families a little extra without being detected. We were poor, but there were people even worse off than we were—much worse.
Excerpted from GOD'S DOUBLE AGENT by BOB FU, Nancy French. Copyright © 2013 Bob Fu. Excerpted by permission of Baker Books.
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