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Brother Sheng

"If you’ve been waiting for an invitation, this calligraphy is it. Commissioned by Facebook, this is a hand-lettered design for a poster. Quote is Facebook mine "

- Massimo Vignelli

Brother Sheng was the eighth child of father’s brother. Sheng was born in the same year as my sister and is 16 years older than I am. Before the Counter-Japanese War, he graduated as a chemical engineering major from Zhong Shan University.  After graduating, by the introduction of Father, he joined Shimin Soil Factory.  During the War, Father and he worked in Technical Office of Construction Department in Shaoguan, Guangdong.  After the War, they returned to the soil factory again. During these ten years, they put themselves in the same boat and helped each other out a lot. According to Father, one reason was because Brother Sheng liked learning, worked ard, and was mature.  Since his own sons were quite young, he hoped Brother Sheng would help them out

Brother Sheng was the eighth child of father’s brother. Sheng was born in the same year as my sister and is 16 years older than I am. Before the Counter-Japanese War, he graduated as a chemical engineering major from Zhong Shan University.  After graduating, by the introduction of Father, he joined Shimin Soil Factory.  During the War, Father and he worked in Technical Office of Construction Department in Shaoguan, Guangdong.  After the War, they returned to the soil factory again. During these ten years, they put themselves in the same boat and helped each other out a lot. According to Father, one reason was because Brother Sheng liked learning, worked ard, and was mature.  Since his own sons were quite young, he hoped Brother Sheng would help them out with their careers.

Brother Sheng fled to Shaoguan in 1942. He had medium height, slim body, pointy face with black frame glasses.  His two little eyes were quick-witted, but because he smoked, his teeth were white while gaps between them are black.  His wife, Auntie Eight, was a principal of Hexi Elementary School.  She is of medium height and a little overweight. She has a style of a gentle educator, speaking slowly and logically.  Our family and theirs were neighbors and we got along pretty well.

Narrow-gauge railway and trucks by the coal loading point. Jiayang Mining Region. Sichuan province. China. © Serjio74 | Dreamstime.com

When Shaoguan fell to Japanese occupation, mother passed away. After fleeing to the Chaozhu Village of Dongjiang Pingyuan County, our two families lived together. Auntie Eight taught me to do chores.  In my free time, I spent time copying down articles from the newspapers.  Every time I met something I didn’t know, I would ask Auntie Eight about it, and she would answer patiently.  Sometimes Brother Sheng would be there to provide some supplemental knowledge. I remember one day, when the news of the winning of the Counter-Japanese War was published, I thought the world would be in peace from then on. However, the editorials of the newspaper said it was otherwise. I was very confused. They explained the conflict between the Nationalist Party and the Communist Party.  It was then that I learned about the Communist Party for the first time.

Chaozhou is a little village with only a few dozen houses, and its markets were organized infrequently. We lived there for a couple of months but only experienced a few markets. Later, employees of the Construction Department and their family members were evacuated here, making this little village a lot livelier. At night, there was no electric lights, and there was nowhere to go. People gathered around and chatted until midnight at the front door of a dessert store.  This store was run by two families of the Construction Department.  A few girls and I hung out there.

People talked about everything. One of the topics was about taking exams for the universities. Cadres of the Construction Department were mostly technical cadres who have taken exams for universities.  Some of the young cadres were going to take exams in that year. I heard in the conversation that the examination for Zhongshan University was extremely hard and even a slight mistake would fail a participant. This made the university examinations a mystery and solemnity to me. Although I had only attended the first semester of middle school, my heart was injected with hope for an opportunity to take the exams for universities.

Ancient City of Old town in Chaozhou city, China © Sumeth Anusornkamala | Dreamstime.com

After the Counter-Japanese War was won, my family moved back to Foshan. Wenzhi and I got into Huaying High School and my younger brother went to Huaying Elementary School.  My two younger brothers travelled out of Guangzhou during longer vacations.  We had two places to go, Uncle’s house and Brother Sheng’s house. I liked to go to Brother Sheng’s house. I liked to chat with Brother Sheng and Auntie Eight, talking about the happiness and questions of life and hoping to gain knowledge from Brother Sheng and the methodical exposition of Auntie Eight. What I liked more was her Pig Knuckle and Trotter. Whenever she knew I was on the way to her house, she would prepare this dish. When they saw how much I enjoyed their food, they would be very happy. Whenever I speak of Brother Sheng, I’m used to say it in possessive form, my Brother Sheng.  When Auntie Eight speaks of him, she also says “your Brother Sheng” in possessive form. Brother Sheng was just like my own brother, my blood-related, dearest brother.

I’m grateful for the support and encouragement Brother Sheng gave me when I applied to Zhongshan University. When I announced that I planned to apply for this University, my families had different reactions towards it. Uncle and aunt were unmoved, since they believed that as a girl from Foshan, I had studied enough after finishing high school. Father and another uncle encouraged me to explore all my talents.  My cousin’s husband was most discouraging. He said my attempt to apply to Zhongshan University is like “shooting an ant’s beard while riding a horse”.  He said I should attend Guangzhou University so that I can work in the daytime and study at night. He could find a job for me. When I conveyed these reactions to Brother Sheng, he contemplated for a moment and said, “You should apply to Zhongshan. I believe you can get a chance to attend.” I jumped with happiness and asked him why. He said, “because you are serious about it.” I argued, “nowadays, everybody is serious about it, it might not help much just by being serious.”  It would be nice if there were some ways to raise my study efficiency.” Brother Sheng replied, “Just keep up with your usual mode is fine enough.” His words gave me courage and strength. Doesn’t that mean Brother Sheng believes my usual study mode is the best mode? Brother Sheng applied to Zhongshan University before, so I believe in him undoubtedly. In the end, his word was completely right. If it wasn’t for Brother Sheng’s encouragement, I would not have been this determined and courageous about going to Zhongshan. When a person is in need, trust and encouragement have extraordinary effects.

The night view of the doorway at the Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, China © Yujian Wu | Dreamstime.com

However, the intimate familial love was destroyed by the Three-anti Campaign. It was carved so deeply in my heart that even after thirty years, with Brother Sheng and Father having long passed away, I was shocked by my relative’s comment.  I was chatting with a relative and unintentionally mentioned “my Brother Sheng”.  My relative immediately stopped the conversation and stared at me in a very vigilant way. He said, “Sheng failed your father greatly.  Don’t you forget that.”

In reality, after Brother Sheng and the Three-anti Campaign, I did not forget anything. How could I forget?

In the beginning of 1952, when the Three-anti Campaign first began, I was in Fanyu participating in the Agrarian Reform. My family hid the true condition from me. When I happily returned home after the Reform, I was told that father became a “big tiger” (a title for those who were the targets of the Campaign).  He was imprisoned in Guangzhou Cement factory, the name was changed to the Liberation, for isolation and investigation. The following day, I braced myself and went to face reality.  The receptionist explained the sharp and complicated conditions in the factory.  She denied serious embezzlement, such as my Father being exposed for embezzling 800 million yuan, 80 thousand, after the Currency Reform.  She said he was being so arrogant and unrestrained that they shot bullets into the office of Task Forces, and that he had belligerent allies.  I was surprised to hear this.  The secretary led me to meet father and to try to persuade him to confess his embezzlement.  Afterwards, he complimented me for good performance as a member of the Communist Youth League of China. It caused my aunt and Wenzhi to have negative opinions on me. They suspected me of saying nonsensical words.  In fact, I only persuaded Father to accomplish what he had always told us to do, to be loyal and honest. Deep in my heart, I did not believe that Father committed embezzlements because he liked to say, “there are two things that need to be clear, money and romantic relationships. Make them as clear as they can be, the clearer the better”.  I’m sure he practiced this statement strictly.

Postage stamp printed in China shows Agrarian Reform © Alexander Mirt | Dreamstime.com

The Campaign had been in a stalemate for a long time before having a breakthrough. According to others, it was Brother Sheng who, “atoned for his crimes by being meritorious” and stood against Father. He did not specifically expose anything.  Instead, he “reported” father from a fundamental level, saying that Father had always been dishonest and acting differently than his words. This was used to “break down” the biggest obstacle of the Campaign for the Task Forces, my father’s prestige and image. The Campaign deteriorated sharply.  All the ones who were investigated admitted the funds that they embezzled. The acting factory manager, Zhang, was arrested and prisoned. Father also admitted for embezzling 800 million yuan. Brother Sheng was released. He joined the Communist Party afterwards.

However, none of the “big tigers” could confess the whereabouts of their embezzlements. The amount of money they returned was extremely different from the amount that they embezzled. The Campaign reached a bottleneck again. The Task Forces then notified me to talk to my father again.

Father said to me that he admitted these numbers only because the Task Forces changed the definition of embezzlement. Most of the money was spent on wasteful consumptions of materials. As for the location of the money, we had to wait for the Task Forces to investigate themselves. Father only admitted two things.  He said that when he asked the foreman to buy rice, oil, and coals, Father said he might have received some discounts on the prices. Secondly, when a Danish mechanic came to the factory to install new equipment, Father stayed with him during vacation time and received 500-yuan additional overtime each month. Father explained this authentically and sincerely, so I believe him. I couldn’t change much about the Task Forces.

Task Forces investigated and verified that Father’s embezzlements plunged again and again, from 800 million to 8 million, and then to 2 million. When the Three-anti Campaign was reinserted, the number of embezzlements became zero. Father was released and was able to get 6 thousand yuan, back. Father refused the money. He donated all the amount to the Korean War.

I heard that Wenzhi said, when the Three-anti Campaign just ended, Auntie Eight came to our house and said Brother Sheng wanted to commit suicide. He even prepared poison for that. Fortunately, she found out and stopped him. When Wenzhi retold this to me, his expression was full of distain. He said, “I immediately refuted her and said, “Brother Sheng studied chemical engineering. It’s easy for him to find a way to die if he wants. There’re a bunch of methods. Why would he let you see that poison?” It made her speechless.   I was frightened after hearing this. We two families used to be extremely close, but now look at the situations we were living in.

Afterwards, Brother Sheng moved from the city to the dormitory of the factory. In 1953, father transferred away from the cement factory to Beijing Preparatory Cement Design Institute. Brother Sheng’s position in the factory rose higher and higher, from general engineer to chief engineer, then to vice plant manager and to some cadre of the Communist Party. He also went abroad as a specialist. During those years, I only met Brother Sheng once, and that was the last time we met. We met next to the Xinhua Theater, and he was with Auntie Eight. He was very polite, too polite, when he saw me.  There were no feelings of truthfulness and closeness we used to have.

Xinhua Theater, Fotang Ancient Town, China © Sheji356 | Dreamstime.com

In 1967, Brother Sheng was suddenly diagnosed with tongue cancer. He died during surgery. There were only three or four days from diagnosis to his death,. He was 54 years old. After I returned home, father was quite grieved. He told me this after I asked him. Father went to his funeral. I was sad as well, but there was nothing we could do about it.

There are two types of Brother Sheng inside my heart.  One is the Brother Sheng I had long known, kind and amiable.  Another one is the stranger, Manager Zhang, Boss Zhang, Some-kind-of-Cadre Zhang, hateful and abominable. Why would Brother Sheng experience such ruthless change? He was a thoughtful person, what was he thinking? What was he thinking deep down inside his soul?

My opinion is, that the change of Brother Sheng contains both external and internal causes. The external cause at that time was cruel and delusive. To cowards and greedy people, that was the most attractive side for him. Since “external cause works through internal cause,” Brother Sheng was still guilty to some extent. Therefore, I not only blame Brother Sheng for the internal cause, but also blame that dreadful external cause.

May Brother Sheng rest in peace.


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