1979: The article that exposed the corruption of local officials in China

1979: The article that exposed the corruption of local officials in China

Liu Binyan’s “People or Monsters,” published by People’s Literature in 1979, is a fictionalized story based on factual reporting about a corrupt government official in Heilongjiang Province, and the whistleblowers who exposed her. Liu paints China’s governance as a web of interlocking connections (a social mechanism known as “guanxi”) rather than a system based on the rule of law, and depicts corruption as an endemic phenomenon rather than an exception. As it exposed a dark side of socialism, “People or Monsters” became popular across China, but the writer, who had already spent part of his life in labor camps, was expelled from the party in 1987 and fled to the United States where he remained until his death in 2005.

About People’s Literature

People’s Literature, established in 1949, was the first literary journal in the People’s Republic of China and is the oldest continuously published journal of this kind in China.  It is published by the China Writers’ Association, an organization affiliated with the Communist Party and it was printing 1.5 million copies per issue at the time “People or Monsters” was published.

“People or Monsters”

By Liu Binyan



The courtyard of the Party Committee of Bin County had always been the centre of attention for the people of the county. For ten years after the land reform, people constantly came in and went out of the courtyard, as casually as visiting their relatives. Whatever problems or circumstances brought you to the town market, or somewhere else in town, you could always go to the county hall to pass the time for a while, chatting with the cadres who had worked in the work team in your village. After a while, however, the courtyard walls seemed to slowly rise and thicken, and when people passed by, they looked inside with a bit of awe and a sense of mystery. In the early 1960s, when people who hurried past the main gate of the courtyard and smelled the inviting smell of meat, oil and steamed buns coming from the small-stove canteen of the county committee, they felt very unpleasant and their faces often flashed with a bitter smile. Being an official isn’t bad at all and living a good life…

In November 1964, a crowd of people gathered at the gate of the courtyard, where a jeep had just driven in. The people had heard that a new Party secretary was coming, and they wanted to see for themselves what kind of person he would be. Their intense curiosity was mixed with eager anticipation, but not without a little worry. This term of the county committee, three secretaries had collapsed already, would the new one be able to make it?  

From the moment he arrived, Tian Fengshan, a tall, ruddy-cheeked outlander, became the object of everyone’s attention. Before long people began to say, “his communist party and theirs are quite different.” 

At that time, Bin County in Heilongjiang Province had just begun recovering from the three-year economic hardship. The people had paid a great cost for these years, and there were quite a few problems that now required serious consideration and reappraisal of the party committee. Yet at the meetings of the standing committee of the County Party Committee, and at the study classes for party members at the Mountain of Two Dragon, all the talk was about women…

Tian Fengshan was taking over from a rotten bunch of leaders. While the people were living off tree bark and leaves, making food from a “flour” of crumbled corn cobs and cornstalks, the children of the county party secretary were amusing themselves by tossing meat-filled dumplings made with fine white flour at dogs on the street. Peasants, carrying small packs of dried gran with them, would trek more than thirty miles to present petitions to the County Party Committee, only to be met with icy stares. This is why people seldom approached the County Party Committee anymore; those with problems went straight to the provincial capital at Harbin. And so it came about that the county party secretary and members of the standing committee had even more time to relax in their armchairs and discuss their favourite topic.

Tian Fengshan began personally receiving petitions from the masses and he personally took care of ten important unjust cases that had dragged on for many years. People would begin arriving at his door before he had even gotten out of bed. He would chew on dried grain as he listened to their complaints. He also went around to all the restaurants and stores in the county seat checking the quality of their goods and services. He rescinded the title “advanced enterprise” that had been given regularly each year to the food products factory. “True, you earn tens of thousands of dollars each year,” he told them, “and true, you save tens of thousands of pounds of rice, oil and sugar. But you do this by cheating the common people – what kind of ‘advanced enterprise’ is that?” Having inquired into housing conditions, he lowered rents. He brought cadres to see the more backward production brigades, and immediately the poorer brigades began to change for the better.

But history allotted him a mere two years! In November 1966, the Red Guards stormed the courtyard of the County Party Committee. Within two hours the man who had been honoured by the people of Bin County as “honest magistrate tian” retired forever from the stage of Bin County’s history.

As the lonely, looming figure of Tian Fengshan fell into obscurity, a new star began to rise in the Bin County seat. This fellow was thin and small and quite ordinary in appearance; but because of his military rank, he quickly became all-powerful, a great figure who held sway over the 500,000 people in Bin County. Even today, thirteen years later, the political achievements of this leftist Commissar Yang are felt in the daily lives of the people of Bin County; people often think about him and discuss him, always sharply contrasting him with their fond memories of Tian Fengshan.

The first impressions Commissar Yang left with people were of his quacking voice and his inflammatory public speeches. Yet, while people were still sorting out these first impressions, one thing had already aroused everybody’s interest. Whenever Commissar Yang’s jeep drove by on the dirt road from the county seat, raising a cloud of dust, people felt puzzled: 

“Why was Commissar Yang running around with that woman?”

The woman with Commissar Yang in the car was shortly to become an important figure in Bin County and would, thirteen years later, shock the entire country. She was Wang Shouxin.

1. Enter “leftist” Wang Shouxin

On the eve of the storm, things were just a little too quiet at the tiny Bin County coal company. Party branch secretary Bai Kun and manager Teng Zhixin, both from poor peasant backgrounds, had been keeping this little enterprise of a few dozen workers in apple-pie order. The spirit of the time was to learn from the heroic soldier Lei Feng; cadres were honest and laboured for the public good. Yet peering back through the murky clouds of the past thirteen years, it probably cannot be said that there were no problems at the coal company. For example, Zhou Lu, the person who had been nominated by the party to succeed the party branch secretary that year (we here pass over the question of whether it was right to designate this person in advance, since party secretaries are supposed to be elected), later became an accomplice in Wang Shouxin’s massive corruption scheme. By contrast, Liu Changchun, one who was reckoned at that time to be ideologically backward, later fought tirelessly against Wang Shouxin, and never did yield to her.

Wang Shouxin began as the company’s cashier. She was full of energy, but unfortunately, all of it was directed outside the company. One moment she would be sitting there and the next moment she had disappeared. She was the first to know who was fighting with whom on the street, which couple was getting a divorce, or what new goods had arrived at the department store, and she came back to do voluntary publicity. She also always took it upon herself to spread around whatever she could learn, and her old-biddy gossiping often set her comrades against one another.

When the wave of the Cultural Revolution arrived, who knows what kind of lust it aroused in Wang Shouxin’s heart, her political activism, which had been dormant for years, suddenly blasted. She went to the commercial system to make contacts, but no one paid any attention to her. She went to the students, which didn’t work either. It was only after she found Commissar Yang of the Munitions Ministry, that she was able to get support, and then she returned to the company and set up an organisation. When no one would work with her, she went to Zhang Feng, who was a former bandit, and said, “let’s get together and bring them down! Let’s call it the ‘Black Hole Busting Combat Team’!”

She pulled Zhou Lu, a car driver and party member, aside and elbowed him in the ribs, squeezing her eyebrows and saying affectionately, “You were oppressed in the past, too, why don’t you rebel now?” 

Zhou Lu, was a man who, unfortunately, is afraid of his own shadow, despite his big skeleton. He was afraid that rebellion could lead to misfortune. Yet if he didn’t rebel, but just watched as Wang Shouxin became the trusted lackey of Commissar Yang, he feared even worse consequences. He thought long and hard and finally decided that the old bunch of officeholders like Bai Kun would never return. Bucking up his courage, he climbed aboard Wang Shouxin’s bandwagon. Wang had often taunted him: “Those who marry eagles eat dog meat, those who marry ducks eat diluted shit!” Zhou Lu became even more determined that he had to eat dog meat. 

The first person to obstruct Wang Shouxin’s way was Liu Changchun. This man was originally a handloom weaver but now worked as a planning statistician for the coal company. His dependents included his five siblings and his wives and children, and he could hardly stretch his salary to support all of them. When he finished his day shift, everyone else went home to rest and play, but he, Liu Changchun, had to work a second shift. He could not earn more than a few cents a night by cranking the loom and knitting socks for people, or selling bean sprouts at the market. Sometimes he would bring back a piglet from the market, but he didn’t know how to feed it, so when it came time to sell it, he might have to lose a few dollars. In short, he did not flatter, he did not steal, he just relied on the endless energy in his small, dry body to quietly survive his poor life. He did not complain that God had treated him badly, and he never looked sad as if he could even enjoy himself. 

Probably because of the hardships he had to endure since he was a child, or perhaps because of the stubborn temper that all craft workers have, Liu Changchun had a temper that would not bow and scrape or put up with scurrilous talk. He would stick his neck out, glare with a pair of eyes that took into account the reaction of the person glared at, and offensive words would come out. In addition, he is at home every night to engage in “self-reserved land” to support the family, which in the eyes of the leaders, removed him even further from favour. 

Wang Shouxin’s “Black Hole Busting Combat Team” wants to debate with Liu Changchun’s “Red Rebel Corps”. Liu Changchun did not see her as an opponent at all. He saw her as an individual, not as a force, and made the mistake of taking her lightly. At the meeting, a short, skinny man came on stage. He carried his hands upside down and held his shoulders and chest out. Liu Changchun was first stunned, thinking that what big names had come to Harbin. When he took a closer look, he laughed: “It’s only that little bastard. He’s been the rebel leader only three days, and he’s already trying to act the part.”

The man was Wen Feng, the commander-in-chief of the “Defend the United Front” faction, who had come out to support Wang Shouxin. He didn’t need to say much, his voice was loud and clear, and his thin lips flapped a few times to show off his long-buried oratorical skills, which was enough. The most important thing was the slogan at the end, which immediately stunned people:

“Follow Commissar Yang closely, make a revolution, and sweep away all the evil spirits and snakes!”

Commissar Yang was standing with Wen Feng and Wang Shouxin, and the attitude towards him was the litmus test for revolution or counter-revolution!

Wang Shouxin was also on the stage: she had short hair of the same length at the root of her ears, dark and shiny. Although she had been wearing less makeup since her decision to become a rebel, her fair-skinned face still appeared lively and pretty, making her look younger than forty-five years old.

Commissar Yang sent a staff officer from the armed forces to sit in on the debate. His speech decided everything: 

“…Liu Changchun, this organisation of your Red Rebel Corps is not fighting the power holder, grasping production, pressing revolution, and looking for the power holder to study production, where do you show the slightest bit of rebel spirit? … You are right-leaning, you are going in the wrong general direction! From today onwards, immediately disband!”

Liu Changchun was so angry that he jumped up and down. This is so unfair before we can speak and then make a conclusion. He had always loved reading newspapers and liked to reason. He was proud of his ability to understand policies and address them. He jumped onto the stage in two steps, took out the Sixteen Points and the “latest instructions”, cleared his throat and then boldly opened up his stance to debate with others. He was so naive that these were already out-of-date. He was met by a deafening uproar of slogans; then he was jostled, and there was punching and kicking as well. This special modern form of “debate” used in our ancient and civilised country is the most efficient: within two minutes Wang Shouxin’s political opponents were “refuted” to the core.  

Liu Changchun never lowered his head during the many sessions of the struggle. He looked around with a smile on his face when his head was pressed as if he was looking for someone to make a joke or hear his sarcastic comment. When Zhou Lu, who was presiding over the struggle, shouted his voice hoarse, Liu Changchun struggled to lift his head and said to Zhou Lu:

“Hey, Zhou Lu. You’re a fucking idiot man. How did you make your fucking voice mute?”

The comment put Zhou Lu on the spot and greatly amused all who heard it.

The day after the debate, when Wang Shouxin had seen there was no one around but the two of them, she approached Liu Changchun and whispered softly into his ear: “Changchun, let’s work together. I am not well educated, you can be a military advisor. I will be in charge, and you will be NO.2 …”   

Liu Changchun’s big eyes glared, and he said with a firm hand:

“You can knock that off right now! I would rather be a stirrup for a good man than an ancestor for a coward! We’re not finished!”

This was a man who would not turn back even if he hit the south wall, as long as he did not lose his head. Seeing that a number of people were standing over, Wang Shouxin’s power was growing and the Red Rebel Corps was in disarray. Liu Changchun also cheered up his own faction who had not yet “struck back”, saying:

“Don’t be afraid! I’ll bring you food the day you land in jail!”

But within a few days, he was handcuffed and sent to jail – he became an “active counter-revolutionary” who was “anti-army”!  

2. The world turned upside down

In the soil of poverty and impoverishment, the flower of power seems to blossom in an extraordinarily fragrant and attractive way. Otherwise, the head of the “rebellion”, Wen Feng, would not have been the first to shout “Follow Commissar Yang!” and reap the benefits of it. To be fair, however, when he first heard this slogan, Commissar Yang was stunned and asked the man beside him, “What did he say?” The man was smart and hastened to enlighten him, “Aren’t you the man sent by Chairman Mao’s command? Of course, I have to follow you closely!” Only then did the commissar agree, nodding his head in agreement: “Oh, oh, you should follow me closely then!”

What followed “closely” was love and admiration. One day Commissar Yang left his keys at home when he came to the office. Without saying a word, his female secretary immediately hopped onto a bus to fetch the keys. By coincidence, his driver also drove up. Each of them was hiding their motives from the other in order to be the one to get the keys. After arguing with each other to a standstill, they finally agreed to bring the keys to the commissar together, making an equal contribution.

In short, the force of Commissar Yang in Bin County was the same as the force of the potential of guns and bullets to kill people. When Wang Shouxin accompanied Commissar Yang on his late-night tour of the commune and instructed commune cadres that “Commissar Yang likes to eat boiled pork with pickled cabbage and blood sausage, but the meat must be leaner”, he naturally experienced the taste of power in the most tangible way, and it was no less lovely than this famous Manchurian dish.

One day in August 1968, Commissar Yang walked briskly into the office of the preparatory group of the Bin County Commercial Revolutionary Committee. He looked around at the members of the group, who had risen in salute, and said in the categorical tone to which he had long been accustomed, something that shocked everyone:

“You have to ask Wang Shouxin to join the Committee!”

The committee members all looked at each other without saying a word. One man boldly asked in a soft voice: “If she joined, what could she contribute?” Meaning that she couldn’t read much. Then she had a bad reputation for sleeping around…

The commissar was originally pacing around the office in a contemplative manner, as soon as he heard the objection, he immediately stood still, his gaze swept majestically at all the members present. He knit his brows and then spoke irritably, in words as clear and immutable as boldface type:

“It’s not a question of being on the team or not, but of being the deputy director of the Commercial Revolutionary Committee!”

This was an order, a resolution unanimously passed by the preparatory group, and a ballot voluntarily filled in by all the commercial workers in Bin County. In those days, that was the rule. Otherwise, why would Commissar Yang frown? The frown could be explained in various ways: “You hardened brains …” “What do you want, to rebel against the army?” “Shouting ‘stay close’, is it true or not?” … 

In fact, Commissar Yang also had his worries. Wang Shouxin had been asking him for a position since 1967 and insisting that she would be the head of the Bin County Women’s Representative Committee. This was a problem for the highest authority: she was not even a Party Committee member, how could she be the director? Impossible. Wang Shouxin was very unhappy. After the “rebellion”, running around with Commissar Yang, for the first time in her life she tasted what it was like to be in power in our society – so many people listening to you, lifting you up, and you are gaining real profit and glory! How much more prestigious than her former highest ambition of being a wife to a fake police officer or a landlord! … This setback disappointed her so much that she complained about Commissar Yang behind his back:

“Commissar Yang, ah, is scumbag… Those members of the Women’s Representative Committee are all sluts and bitches!” Then, Commissar Yang ordered the Commercial Revolutionary Committee to “accept” Wang Shouxin into the Party. Several members objected, and even Zhao Yu, the head of the Commercial Revolutionary Committee, had difficulty in “following” Commissar Yang. As a result, all the members of the committee received a spanking from the Commissar.

“Still needs training? How else do you think we should have trained her? The Cultural Revolution is the most testing of all. As I see it, she is the only one in the whole of Bin County who is qualified to join the Party!”

A month later, Commissar Yang again lectured in front of more than 500 people at a meeting of the Workers’ Council, saying, “Some people have problems with the rebels! They only look for minor problems and don’t look at the big picture. They don’t develop the rebel faction, but only develop easy-going types into the Party!”

So, despite the opposition of 70 per cent of the Party members, Wang Shouxin became a “specially approved” member by Commissar Yang.

It was September 1969. It was in that same month that Zhang Zhixin, an outstanding member of the Communist Party, was arrested in Liaoning Province by the dictatorial authorities led by the Communist Party. One came in, one went out. The fall of Tian Fengshan and the rise of Commissar Yang; the exit of Zhang Zhixin and the entry of Wang Shouxin. Were these merely insignificant accidents in their implications for communist organisation in China?

It will take another another decade  before this inversion can be raised as a question …. 

3. Wonderful exchange

On the first day Wang Shouxin took office as manager and party branch secretary of the Coal Company (later renamed the Fuel Company), workers were digging pits and laying oil pipes. The team members sent by the county were playing chess in the house. Wang Shouxin was furious when she saw them and cursed loudly, “You play chess while others work. What kind of work team is this?”

Zhou Lu (now deputy manager) was surprised but managed to hide his feelings: she had never cursed like that before. He ignored it, but there were people watching him, also surprised by the change in him. Bai Kun, the old secretary of the coal company, was wondering, “This boy Zhou Lu used to be not so good in business – he drove a car and dropped the wheels and didn’t even notice it. That I can forgive, but at that time I thought he had good qualities, and I was training him to be a successor. But how can he change so quickly suddenly? He fawns over Wang Shouxin like crazy, patting the woman’s ass whenever she speaks. It must have been the same, all this flattering and fawning when he worked for me. But because he felt comfortable, he took it as an advantage? How could I have failed to see through him all these years?

There are a lot of things that had not been seen through. Look at Wang Shouxin. She’s a completely different person: the old Wang Shouxin used to be lazy every day. Now she is the first to come to work and the last to leave. Even the dress has changed – a cloth coat, a pair of rubber shoes, all day long, in and out of the office, busy as a bee, labouring along with the workers who were unloading coal or cleaning up… 

Over the years Wang Shouxin had come to know this tiny coal company thoroughly, and to become thoroughly bored with it. But since she became the head of the company, everything here has changed, and there seems to be a strange glow everywhere. The black piles of coal, the glittering lumps of coal, how tempting! The people who were busy unloading, weighing and collecting the coal were no longer indifferent to her. It all belonged to her, and everybody obeyed Wang Shouxin’s orders. 

Wang Shouxin, of course, thought she was at the service of the people. But the people were not the same – they were of different quality and ranks. The first reform she introduced was to sell coal based on the position of the people. She picked out lumps of top-quality coal, packed them into straw bales for flood control, pulled them by car and delivered them door-to-door to the county party secretaries and standing committee members. This kind of coal catches fire when it sees it, and the fire is still strong, just in time to cook dumplings for New Year’s Eve. … payment? What’s the rush? We’ll talk about it later …

As for the People’s Armed Forces, no question about it! On that scale in Wang Shouxin’s heart, the yellow cotton coat, as the symbol of the military, is the heaviest, and the soldier is at the top of the ladder, followed by the Organisation Department. These people, coal being the top, were sent up in special cars and were also provided with meals. Further down the ladder, there were those who manage personnel, finance and labour. 

Wang Shouxin was a warmly sentimental woman with a strong sense of love and hatred. The tens of thousands of tons of coal and nine cars in her hands were her pen and ink, writing her lyrical poems every day.

It was not that Wang Shouxin was greedy for food, but she saw in the fragrance the smiling faces of “relations” at the provincial, local and county levels. As a result, such factories were supplied with a constant supply of good coal, and the charges were not high. What is the point of bearing factories and ceramic factories? They are all cold, hard things – who wants such gifts? So they were given only bad coal, with prices jacked up at that. What if the coal could not burn hot enough to heat large vats? None of that had anything to do with me – Wang Shouxin!

In January of that year, the county health centre ran out of coal and sent someone to find Manager Wang. After reading the letter of introduction, Wang Shouxin raised her eyebrows and asked the visitor, saying.

“Why didn’t your leader come?”

“He is busy, he didn’t have time…”

“Your health centre’s GaoDianYu has sued my son. No coal for you guys!”

The man pleaded again and again, but Wang Shouxin wouldn’t give an inch. She continued her train of thought.

 “The county committee has been investigating this for two months, but isn’t my son still the deputy director of Xinli Commune, isn’t he? … Don’t you think you can slip one past me Old Lady Wang! The material that exposes my son is the work of Fang Yongjiu of Xinli Commune and was prepared by Director Rong of the commune’s Health Department. Gao Dian You’s gun shot out!

Words reached GaoDianYou there, and he immediately wrote to the county party leadership: “… apparently, there is a spy here. The actual fact is, I wrote to the County Committee to expose Liu Zhimin’s material, but how could Wang Shouxin know so much of it? … Please ask the county committee to deal with it seriously and please ensure the safety of the whistleblower.”

The letter to denounce Wang Shouxin fell into Wang Shouxin’s hands – this was not the first time, nor was it the last time. Wang Shouxin used her coal as a weapon of revenge and made no secret of it, nor was it the first or last time.

The truck was also an important weapon in the story of Wang Shouxin’s revenge. Year after year, the people of Bin County had to go up to the mountains to haul firewood and down to the countryside to haul autumn vegetables. In a county with a population of over 30,000, cars were very limited. This was a hurdle that every family had to cross every year.

Yang Qing, a disciplinary officer of the county discipline inspection committee, asked a driver to go into the mountains to pull firewood that year. The family had prepared a table of food and wine – his salary was only about 40 yuan, so it wasn’t easy. It was almost dark when the sound of a car emerged and the family ran out but only found that the car had returned empty. The driver was unhappy, saying that “the road was impassable”, so he drove back. How could they survive the winter? The couple stared blankly at the cold food on the table and were so sad that they almost cried. 

Who lent a helping hand in these desperate times? Old Ms Wang. How could the whole family not be grateful?

Wang Shouxin often took to heart the difficulties of the people of Bin County. What family’s burden has not increased over the past ten years, when the salaries of county cadres have remained unchanged? Many people owned hundreds or thousands of dollars in public money. In 1975, the County Party Committee was instructed by its superiors to repay the public money by the deadline. Wang Shouxin was a god of wealth. She often carried a bearer bankbook on her and could always take out cash in her desk drawer. Anyone who needs it, often without waiting for them to open their mouths, Wang Shouxin took the initiative to ask: are you in trouble? Need money to use? The “rebel faction” big head Wen Feng and other brothers, powerful section-level cadres, have “borrowed” the public money Wang Shouxin had, to pay off the public money owed in the past. A new relationship arose from this transfer of the proletarian state’s money: firstly, the creditor changed from the state to Wang Shouxin; secondly, whether Wang Shouxin’s money was repayable or not, she expected you not to pay, then the debt was a favour plus a debt; if you paid, you still owed a favour. The best way to repay this debt is for the debtor to use their power to facilitate Wang Shouxin. The debtor themselves had nothing to lose materially, and Wang Shouxin could buy the favour with money.. So why not do it this way, since it was win-win situation for both?

This is in fact an exchange of goods through a functional exchange of power. In one case, it was a direct supply of goods. For example, Wang Shouxin raised so many pigs (this was for another round of exchange – the power function of reimbursing each other’s expenses with pork), where did she get the feed? Seek out the deputy director of the grain bureau! More than 10,000 pounds of corn, bran, soybeans and grain bran were seized over. Again when Wang Shouxin invited guests, gave gifts, bartered, she needed fine grains and soybean oil. Call the Deputy Director again! In turn, the deputy director could “borrow” money, “borrow” bricks and “buy” truckloads of coal on credit from Wang Shouxin. None of this had to be repaid, and in fact, it really wasn’t.

The county’s “dictatorship of the proletariat” served Wang Shouxin’s ‘socialist’ enterprise quite well. Wang Shouxin had to ship truckloads of meat, fish, grain, oil and vegetables to Harbin, but the law forbade them from leaving the country. The head of the Industry and Commerce Section and the number two head of the “rebel faction” personally signed off on the shipment and it had passed without hindrance since 1973. He was given a “loan” of 600 yuan and various gifts. Wang Shouxin needed to keep the cash that should have been handed over to the State Treasury for various private purchases and indiscriminate construction but could not deposit it in the bank. In compensation, Wang Shouxin was able to convert the man’s son-in-law from a temporary worker to a permanent one, and admit his son to the “intellectual youth spot” she ran, then alter his identification and send him to university.

This exchange of power has been going on for years between Wang Shouxin and dozens or hundreds of cadres from the County Party Committee, the county revolutionary committee, and the regional and provincial levels. Even the “status” of some people can itself become the capital for exchange. Wang Shouxin, in order to set up a “non-stable food base”, wanted to take over 200 mu of good land from the Songjiang Brigade of the Bird River Commune, causing dissatisfaction among the community members and grassroots cadres. The director of the county “agricultural office” had no authority to approve the deal, but he accompanied Wang Shouxin to meet with the cadres of the commune, brigade and squad and had a meal so that he could show the support of the county revolutionary committee for the negotiations and acquiesce to the illegal deal, and a large area of arable land changed hands in this way. 

This “socialist” exchange was indeed quite “superior” to the capitalist exchange. Both parties did not have to own capital, did not have to spend any private property, did not risk any loss or bankruptcy, and each got some benefits.

It is quite obvious that every such exchange could not but break the boundaries of policy and either caused direct damage to socialist public property or defeat party discipline and state law, or often both, which in the end must have harmed the socialist system and given the party leadership a vain name, and in this repeated exchange the party cadres themselves gradually degenerated into mere devourers of the people’s fat. The relationship between the Party and the masses also deteriorated.

4. How can a single hand clap?

Language is a strange thing. When Commissar Yang pointed to Wang Shouxin as having a “completely red family”, he had meant to praise her. Yet, in the mouths of the common people, the same phrase — “completely red family” — was said as a curse. They examined and rejected each of Wang Shouxin’s family’s entry into the party and promotion. 

The eldest son, Liu Zhimin, was a total womaniser, and always wore a trifle of alcohol on his cheeks. How could he possibly be qualified to become the deputy director of Xinli Commune and a member of the Communist Party? When he attempted to rape a girl, why was it that he was treated with such leniency, and even assigned thereafter to the country committee “to study policy”? The second son joined the party at the cadre school, but there was only a temporary branch there, which did not have the right to develop party members. The young man who was totally an unqualified young dandy got appointed assistant manager of the photography studio? Wang Shouxin’s sister is even stranger, having just been expelled from the Communist Youth League and yet she joined the party! …

Since the people love the Party, they were of course going to be upset when they saw these shady characters sneak into it. From 1972 onwards, whenever there was a campaign, people kept coming to the County Party Committee to put up Big-Character posters, raising the issue of Wang Shouxin, including the issue of her “completely red family”.

However, the Party organisation in Bin County, could not be reformed until there was a change in the Party leadership. An opportunity arose in 1970. At the beginning of that year, Commissar Yang was transferred to the Heilongjiang Provincial Party Committee as head of a task force to review the provincial party secretary as he was rewarded for his “support for the left”. He was succeeded by an old cadre, Zhang Xiangling. This sturdy, middle-aged man with large, thick feet had walked from Yan’an to Baiquan County, Heilongjiang Province, in 1945. Now he opened his big feet again to measure the land of Bin County. He sometimes walked a hundred miles a day, forcing himself to endure severe stomach pains.

But he soon found it difficult to walk on the flat ground of the County Party Committee compound.  Commissar Yang stayed in Bin County for several months after the transfer order was issued, and the distribution of power in Bin County was further deployed, with “rebels” placed in important positions above the section level. The vast majority of the original cadres in Bin County had not yet been released and were either in the countryside or squatting in prisons. 

Whenever Zhang Xiangling wanted to free one of these cadres, the Cultural Revolution Group came to inform him that a criticism meeting would be held for that cadre the next day and invited him to attend. The power of “the Cultural Revolution Group” was equivalent to that of the Beijing group of the same name, and its deputy leader was also a woman – Wang Shouxin’s eldest daughter-in-law. 

She was a woman in her twenties, not very tall, thin and pretty, with a pair of tiger teeth showing when she smiled, and quite attractive. Originally, she was a typist in the County People’s Committee and was doing quite well. But after the arrival of Commissar Yang, this poorly educated, low-level woman was suddenly appointed the deputy head of the Cultural Revolution Group of the County Revolutionary Committee, and she became a different person. 

There are few things more likely to make people disillusioned with themselves than power. Once this woman had such great power, she mistakenly believed that she had the level of morality and ability that this power required to be deserved. The vanity, parochialism and jealousy that had lain dormant in her mind when she was a typist suddenly all awakened. Her eyes, which were quite likeable, now shot out a fire of suspicion and cynicism, ready to hunt down potential enemies. As many tears as she shed when she said goodbye to Commissar Yang, she now has as much animosity towards Zhang Xiangling. Whenever she went to Harbin for a meeting, she was bound to meet with Commissar Yang, and a line of remote control to Bin County was set up. 

Zhang Xiangling was once left with only one power. You hold a criticism meeting, but I do not attend. It was a bit like the position of Chinese magistrates under the puppet regime of Manchukuo, where the real power was in the hands of the Japanese. The difference is that at that time there was only one Japanese deputy governor, but now there are “Japanese” everywhere. The “rebels” who held deputy positions in the various sections of the prefecture had more power than the head of the main section.

In order not to mislead the reader, it is necessary to explain a little about the “rebels” in Bin County. The “Red Guards” among the students in Bin County had been suppressed by the faction of the “General Association for the Defence of the Union” on the charge of being “anti-military”. The faction in power, which also called itself the “Red Guards” and wore red armbands, were bearded cadres, some of whom were in their forties, the age having grandchildren, and would have belonged to the generation of the Red Guards’ parents. The important difference is not, of course, in their age. For one thing, they all had families, and their economic interests were many times stronger than those of the young. Secondly, they had all been involved in official circles for many years, and many of them “rebelled” because they had been unsuccessful in joining the Party nor being promoted for many years. The combination of strong material greed and the desire for power had led to this recklessness. 

What deeply worried Zhang Xiangling was the growing impurity of not only the leadership but also the organisation of the party as a whole. A couple who had joined the Party in 1969, after Wang Shouxin had joined the Party in 1969, had a fight in which they cursed at each other like this: 

“What are you so proud of?  You just got your Party ticket from a few bottles of good liquor!”

“Goddamn it, you’re not even as good as me. If it wasn’t for your pretty face, would you have joined the Party?”

At the risk of being driven out, Zhang Xiangling made his best efforts to bring down some of the “rebels” who were at the forefront of public anger. In 1970, a resolution was made to re-examine a group of villains who had infiltrated the Party in 1969. But when he left Bin County in 1972, he could not but admit that he was finally unable to change the political balance of power in Bin County. Soon afterwards, the disgraced ones were reinstated, and the resolution to cleanse the Party of the bad guys was yet to be realised

Zhang Xiangling left several new factories in Bin County. He would never have imagined that these factories would be losing money year after year, and would be of little benefit to the treasury, while the corrupt and theft-minded and those in power would be getting their money’s worth.

5. “A heroine of her times”

 There were very different comments about Wang Shouxin’s personality among the people of Bing County: “Old Ms Wang is frank, she can’t hold a word in her stomach.” “Wang Shouxin was the most hypocritical of all, and she’s also a bare-faced liar.” “Old Ms Wang is kind-hearted, warm-hearted and caring.” “Wang Shouxin is very ruthless, and she makes people suffer to death.” 

All these descriptions were true. Sometimes she was frank, sometimes she was hypocritical. Two months ago she could take care of you, and two months later she could kill you. That’s not a contradiction either. That sounds like a contradiction. Let’s take a look.            

She saw a worker squatting in the room, stealing sugar. She went up to him and slapped him twice. After a while, she came back: “Why are you so greedy? Don’t you have any sugar at home? Take this pocket of sugar away!” She was not pretending now nor then. What she wanted was obedience, what she needed to show was power. There was no contradiction at all between loving and scolding.

In Wang Shouxin’s life, the road was uneven. Her father was a horse trader and had no stable income or a decent job. Those with power could oppress him, but those who were decent and honest were afraid of him. Since she was a child, Wang Shouxin has had to fear the Japanese, the fake police officers and the wealthy landowners. But because she was a woman with a pretty face and did not care about dignity, she had a weapon of self-defence and offence. In that environment, she learned not to be shy and to deal with people of much higher status, and she was not afraid of hardship and was able to live a life of inhumanity and get along with people who lived at the bottom of the ladder. This was all very useful in the 1970s when her situation had changed radically.

After 1970, several factories were built in Bin County at once, and the amount of coal used soared, while coal production did not go up. This provided a great stage for Wang Shouxin to develop her talents. 

She had to go to the regional and provincial authorities to fight for coal, for ships to transport it, and for the necessary funding. No matter how influential the official, she was able to show the little charm a woman in her fifties was left with, at first sight in the least offensive way:

“Oh, I say, Secretary Wang (or Manager Gao, Secretary General Nie, whatever), it’s hard for the people of Bin County. They are queuing up to buy coal, one small basket at a time. If you don’t grant some, we’re going to burn our thighs …”

She patted you, pulled you, tore you up and stuck to you without an end. She would cry and laugh at her disposal, which always seemed very sincere. And you’re still not okay with that? Well, she had another trick up her sleeve: she would unzip her trousers and show you that cut on her stomach, showing that her old Ms. Wang came with an illness to fight for coal for the people. How’s that? Why don’t you quickly think of a way to make her zip her trousers? You’re impatient, you’re angry, you want to get rid of her sooner rather than later. But when you think about it, she’s doing it for the public after all. Besides, this woman smelled of the countryside, of vulgarity, sincerity (her trousers are half down!) and intimacy. It was not without its charms for men of a similar age.

“All right, I’ll grant you two thousand tons.”

The coal was to be sold anyway, to Bin County or to Hulan, what’s the difference? 

Old Ms Wang went away happily.

In a few days, someone delivered something: ten pounds of fish, twenty pounds of meat, dozens of pounds of eggs or as many pounds of soybean oil. At first, she did not even know where it came from. But as the saying goes, officials don’t beat up gift-givers. Besides, these were all things that money could not buy in those days. “How much should I pay altogether?” The man laughed: “What is your hurry? We’ll work it out later.” And left. 

At first, these things were bought at a high price. A pound of fish costs one yuan and fifty cents. Wang Shouxin had the guts to not care: buy! She even built an underground freezer to store the food and ate them whenever she liked. Some food gifts were also exchanged: with the commune, the brigade burning bricks, I gave you coal, in exchange, you had to give me pigs, which had to be no less than two hundred pounds, thin skin and thick meat. But Wang Shouxin’s range of contacts and needs were growing exponentially, so she had to think of ways to expand her sources of supply and reduce costs. So a four-man fishing team was set up, a pig farm was built, and a “non-staple food base” that occupied the land of an entire production team, which allowed her to produce fruits and vegetables for her private use. But old lady Wang still wasn’t satisfied; she finagled a bulldozer that spent days noisily digging a great hold that she converted to a fish-farming pond.

 But the need for Wang Shouxin is also developing, and the county committee asked her to get cement, fertiliser and tractors for the county. This necessitates making friends with more and higher heads. Is there any other way to motivate these people besides sending gifts?        

Wang Shouxin observed the lives, thoughts and needs of the leading cadres in the county and beyond. “Apart from food, what else do they care about and worry about most?” She was resourceful, “There it is!” She slapped her thigh and worked it out, “The problem of children! How to find a way not to go to the countryside, to return to the city early, to be able to go on to higher education, or employment!” So, since the local authorities had set up “intellectual youth points” to accommodate young people who had gone to the countryside, why couldn’t her fuel company set up one in the name of the brigade? If it is used as a transfer station, with Wang Shouxin’s well-connected “guanxi”, how difficult could it be to solve the problem of dozens of people going to school, getting a job or returning to the city? 

A site was chosen by the Songjiang brigade of the Bird River Commune. Ten or so tiled houses were built. The children of provincial, local and county leaders and cadres came one after another, or even if they didn’t come, they were on the roster. If they didn’t come, they were still paid 40 or 50 yuan a month. The daughter of Political Commissar Yang registered on the list, yet she never worked, but joined the party, and then “transferred” back to Harbin.       

While some laughed, others cried. 

This is one of the letters of complaint and denunciation that the peasants of Songjiang Brigade have been sending out over the years.

“… Wang Shouxin and her group of social parasites, for many years, used the power to oppress people, forced to buy and occupy our four squads of ripe land and deforestation of up to 58 bighas. The brick factory of our Songjiang brigade uses her coal, and if we don’t give her land, we are stuck with coal supply from her. They cut down more than 10,000 pine trees that we had worked hard to plant for ten years. The ten hectares of terraced land we had built were turned into her melon fields. They even said with a high hand: ‘I asked the production team to send men and plough sticks to plant my land at six o’clock, and his secretary wouldn’t dare miss an hour!’ The production team would rather miss working on their own land than not working on Wang Shouxin’s. They drilled a well near the terraces, but locked the mouth of the well and forbade the farmers nearby to use the water! By taking over our good land and constantly using our labour, they exploited us to the extent that we could only earn 60 cents for a day’s work. And they never pay the agricultural tax; the income is not handed over, and all the products are used for gifts and treats, corrupting the cadres …” 

Yet Wang Shouxin’s conscience was at peace. All she did was “for the public good”, otherwise, why did all the county party secretaries praise her – “Old Ms Wang is really good. How much coal has been brought in!” “Old Ms Wang really gets work done! Of all the five counties along the river, we have brought in the most coal in Bin County!” 

But there was one problem: where did she get the money from?

There are two kinds of coal: coal produced by the state coal mines, which is sold at a high price and a low price, and which is supplied “within the plan”. The “off-plan” coal was supplied by small kilns and had to be transported at extra cost. From 1972 onwards, Wang Shouxin implemented a very easy way to make money. She sold some of the coal from the state mines as small kiln coal at a price ranging from five to more than ten yuan per ton. Two invoices were issued. One was the original price and the other was the additional transport and miscellaneous charges. The latter is not accounted for and the money is turned in.      

Wang Shouxin only allowed two people to know this secret. One was her accomplice Ma Zhanqing, the director of the fuel company’s Baishi sales department. The other was the accountant Sun Xiyin. Both of them were drawn into the party by Wang Shouxin. Sun Xiyin was a small businessman, and he did not know that there was any other kind of relationship in the world than that between the shopkeeper and shop clerk, between the Japanese and the subjugated slaves. He was still as obedient and loyal to Wang Shouxin as he was to his shopkeeper before, and it was a favour for Wang to develop him into a member of the Party. Wang Shouxin’s orders were that the small kiln coal markup would be kept separate and not turned in: invoices could be destroyed. Sun Xiyin did four jobs: invoicing, collecting, bookkeeping and paying for coal, so he had no difficulty carrying out the secretary’s orders. That day, when Wang Shouxin had finished her instructions, Sun Xiyin was about leave, and she stopped him:

“Wait a minute. I heard that you want to marry again? You’re over 50 years old, why are you still talking about that? Forget it!” 

This was also an order, but Sun Xiyin saw it as a good intention. The secretary was concerned about himself. In fact, it had been 19 years since his ex-wife had died, and it was only after much deliberation that he decided to find an old partner.

Wang Shouxin was actually concerned about her business secrecy. There was nothing to be gained in involving another pair of ears and another mouth. Who could tell what kind of person Sun Xiyin had hooked up with? What could she do if this woman turned out to be as loose-tongued as herself?

6. Her party 

After Wang Shouxin was detained, she was still boasting: “If you ask around in Bin County, old lady Wang is the first to care about the lives of the people!” This was true. She personally directed the delivery of the staff’s coal and vegetables to their homes. For example, at the Mid-Autumn Festival, everyone was given two catties of mooncakes, but Wang Shouxin personally handed them over individually, so everyone thought that Secretary Wang only gave them to them and was therefore extraordinarily grateful. When Wang Shouxin went to Guangzhou to see a doctor, she also bought each of them an acrylic thread coat. The fuel company also built the most housing for workers in Bin County. 

Another aspect of Secretary Wang’s work is her scolding. She can scold people to make them cry with a few words. Zhou Lu, for example, the deputy manager, second-in-command, a tall, sturdy man, Wang Shouxin scolded him like scolding her children, in the local language, scolded “like a small head of garlic”, “like an aubergine”. When the staff went to work, they could tell if Secretary Wang was in the company by looking at Zhou Lu’s face. If he was open and cheerful like someone who was in charge, that meant Wang Shouxin was not in. If he was stern-faced and afraid to take a wrong step, then Secretary Wang was definitely in the office. Zhou Lu himself said: “I got caught up in it, and it started with the word ‘fear’. Dealing with her I’m like a piece of bean curd that has fallen into a pile of ashes; you can not brush the ashes off—nothing works. My only hope is at her age. How many more days can that candle of hers burn? Once she dies, I’ll do it properly.” 

Despite her deterrence being so great, Wang Shouxin still could not rest easy. She always suspected that someone was trying to fix her. She had a very sensitive intelligence network. Zhou Lu, because he couldn’t stand Wang Shouxin’s anger, at one point wanted to quit as deputy manager and went out for a drive. The next day Wang Shouxin took him to task: “Zhou Lu, do you want to leave? If you want to go, I’ll give you your walking note right now. Out! Get out right this minute!” 

Her intelligence network was certainly the result of painstaking work. By crowding out and transferring out, transferring in and pulling in, most of the fuel company workers were already people Wang Shouxin could trust. At the same time, Wang Shouxin also built up an absolutely reliable party organisation.

When Wang Shouxin discovered someone of acceptable obsequiousness, she’d drag them in and say: “blind enthusiasm isn’t enough; you must coordinate with the organisation.” For the first one she introduced, some party members disagreed for them to join the party. This made Wang Shouxin blow her stack: “He has been tested by the Cultural Revolution, he is better than any of you! Look at all you party members, either capitalists or royalists, none of you is worth a damn! If he is not qualified to be a member of the Party… None of you is good enough!” 

If she said he’s good enough, he was good enough. Secondly, she recommended Ma Zhanqing, the merits of which were: “exerts himself to the fullest, shouts slogans all day long, unloads coal quite well. The person is not too treacherous, and he hawks the public things like a tiger. I think he’s not bad, enough to be a party member.” Another person objected. Wang Shouxin sank her face and said, “I think it would be better if all the party members of our fuel company could catch up with Ma Zhanqing!” After saying that, she picked up the colander and left. This signalled that Ma had been accepted and that the meeting was adjourned.

Wang Shouxin had single-handedly developed eleven members of the party. The special qualifications of each one merit careful scrutiny. 

A driver: always obedient and honest – driving with Wang Shouxin to deliver gifts, also honestly. There were obviously some ideas in his mind, but he never said anything, he did not ask anything, and he sticks to one credo: “No one is allowed to ask about what Secretary Wang is doing. You can do whatever she tells you to do!” 

The second one is the willingness to work, being honest and obedient. In order to join the Party, when he saw Wang Shouxin was building a house for her sister, he cut a piece of public pine skip into six sections, and also cut a box of glass and pulled it to the site by truck.

A carpenter, willing to work, being honest and obedient. He did almost all of the private work for Wang Shouxin’s family. He was also adept at delivering gifts.

With one exception, the eleven party members were all “hard-working, being honest and obedient”, obedient to whom? To Wang Shouxin, of course. According to the logic that says that closely following the secretary is closely following the party and that protecting the secretary is protecting the party, how far wrong were they, actually? 

In short, in the fuel company, Wang Shouxin had a reliable backbone. In the County Party Committee and the county revolutionary committee organs, there were more than thirty “rebel” brothers and sisters buzzing around her. In the Standing Committee and Secretary of the County Party Committee, she was trusted and praised. What else did Wang Shouxin lack? Her career was in its prime. 

Of course, when she remembered her illicit treasury with its more than forty thousand crisp, new ten-yuan bills, she became slightly nervous. At these times a certain image could emerge to embolden her:

“Well, what do we as nobody matter? Aren’t the top cadres in the province also grabbing money with their hands?”

She was talking about Guo Yucai, the deputy manager of the provincial fuel company. Since 1971, Wang had approached him many times for coal and had given a lot of chicken, fish, meat and eggs. Later, when she invited him to Baishi Port, she hosted a banquet for this distinguished guest. After a full meal, Guo Yucai laid down on his bed and said, “I have not spared any money in getting these two cars for you this time!” Wang Shouxin understood, and handed a red pock with 300 yuan over. Some days later, he said, “I went to Beijing on a business trip this time, and I was short of cash.” Another couple of hundred dollars was sent up. In four years, Guo Yucai took bribes of nearly two thousand yuan and allocated six cars, a gasoline dispenser, and a large amount of coal to Bin County. 

This is what Wang Shouxin wanted – she was afraid that the Communist Party, unlike her, did not love money. The more important the cadre, the more gifts and money she received, and the more she was blown away. Through Guo Yucai, Wang Shouxin invited another deputy director of the Ministry of Commerce to the banquet. When he left, Wang Shouxin made him a set of sofas, bedside tables, a tea table in Harbin, plus three lambs of wood and a few sacks of soybeans. All accepted. Wang Shouxin was even more relieved: “There are such cadres in Beijing too. These things are not my old lady’s private property – he must have known that!”

The collapse of the Gang of Four caused a momentary quiver of fear among Wang Shouxin and her fellow rebels. But a long trip in 1978 proved to her that even almost two years after the collapse of the Gang of Four, her old Ms Wang’s position was not only still unbreakable, but also on the rise. 

It was a demonstration, a power parade, arranged for her by a deputy secretary-general of the Heilongjiang Provincial Economic Committee, Nie, as a reward for Wang Shouxin’s help with the return of his three children to the city and their employment. He bought plane tickets for Wang Shouxin and sent his son to accompany and escort her. When the mega-corrupter took off from Harbin airport, Wang was accompanied by the leaders of three provincial departments in the car. When she arrived in Guangzhou, she was received by three units. In Shanghai, she was escorted to a high-class hotel. 

Now Wang Shouxin has risen to the pinnacle of wealth and honour. Her growing influence “up there”, the constant stream of provincial, prefectural and county cars coming and going from her home, and the various supplies she has brought to Bin County had greatly increased her value. As a reflection of this status, Wang Shouxin was emboldened to be more and more arrogant and domineering. In tiny Bin County, who else was she afraid of? 

7. All-out dictatorship

At the beginning of 1975, while it was still winter, Wang Shouxin went into the mountains with the workers to pull wood up the high flume. The car was loaded with pork, liquor, cigarettes and soap when they went into the mountains. Whenever they arrived at a checkpoint, while old Ms Wang went in to negotiate, and outside, her followers gave gifts to the checkpoint people – all things you wouldn’t normally see. In some cases, as soon as Ms Wang entered, she threw her travel bag on the table and said generously and cordially: 

“Didn’t you say you were short of batteries? This time even the electric rods are here, matching a set!” 

When they went to the mountains, they paid off the inspectors as well. Ms Wang was the first to take the lead, climbing up to the top of the high pile of trees on the snow and ice, picking the good ones and then estimating the number of metres herself. When the car was fully loaded, the old lady, who was sitting in the car, did not even look at it and let it go. So it was, getting back fifty more than the best pine wood, only to spend more than 500 yuan.

It was a happy event and Wang Shouxin planned to celebrate, but what she didn’t expect was some bad news waiting for her in Bin County.

Yang Qing, a disciplinary inspector from the county disciplinary committee, came to her and revealed to her that a member of the standing committee had received an anonymous letter exposing Wang Shouxin’s corrupt and illegal practices. That night, Wang Shouxin brought two bottles of “Binzhou Daqu” to Yang Qing’s house, took the letter of denunciation, said she wanted to check the handwriting and took it away.

The next day, as soon as Wang Shouxin arrived at the company, she threw the letter down in front of Zhou Lu and began swearing at him: “Goddamn it to hell! I go to Gaoleng for 20 days to get timber and everything here turns upside-down! … How the fuck are you doing in this company? Didn’t I tell you to keep an eye on these people?”

The discipline inspector (later deputy director of the discipline inspection committee) Yang Qing also came, and together with Zhou Lu took a few large criticisms of the draft to check the handwriting with the letters of denunciation. Unfortunately, no result was found, so Yang Qing put the letter away and said to Wang Shouxin:

“Don’t check who wrote it either. This letter will be done when it reaches me anyway!”

These words were a hint, and also a promise, that he was putting on the market the power he had in his hands to shield a criminal. The buyer was there; it did not matter very much at what time the price would be paid.

Wang Shouxin pretended to say: “OK. This letter is aimed at me. A branch secretary has to expect such things. Let’s just forget it. If it’s written about someone else, we can’t spare him!”

Yang Qing did keep his promise, and the letter disappeared.

But Wang Shouxin was not going to leave things at that.

She sent three telegrams in a row to urge Qu Zhaoguo, the car driver, to return from the coal mine in Jixi, saying that it was necessary to carry out war preparations. As he entered the room before he could even take off his padded jacket, he was blasted by Qang Shouxin: “You wanted to grab power from me? You were going to plant a bomb under my ass that would blow me up?”

Qu Zhaoguo was stunned and puzzled. He had been driving gifts to Wang Shouxin for a long time, claiming to be Ms Wang’s “adjutant”. Every time he went to a house, the large packages were transported to the house by the “adjutant”, and he was not allowed to take the wrong ones, but he was not allowed to ask anything. Qu Zhaoguo could only observe in silence, for example, he found that all the people who went to give gifts, almost all of them were equipped with telephones, so the official could not be small. Wang Shouxin suspected that he had felt what she was hiding, and she guessed right. Once back to the provincial fuel company for coal, he heard the accountant ask Wang Shouxin if he could get some cash, saying that five thousand yuan would be enough. He heard Wang Shouxin say, “Is five thousand enough? Let’s give you ten thousand.” The accountant asked, “Can you spend that much?” Wang Shouxin said, “You don’t need to spend it, Baishi has it.” When Qu Zhaoguo heard this, he was shocked, but immediately acted as if he hadn’t heard anything. This was the first time that the secret of the illicit treasury at Baishi leaked to the outside world. After nearly four years, when the Binxian County Committee sent a task force to the fuel company, it still had to work hard for three months and hadn’t discovered the secret that was so deadly to Wang Shouxin. 

Wang Shouxin ordered: the entire company staff to run a “learning class”. The first two long articles were studied by Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan. This was the right study: Wang Shouxin was already “dictatorial” enough here, but it wasn’t enough, it had to be more “comprehensive”. The next step was to follow Xiao Jinzhuang’s example and ask everyone to write a critique, which Wang Shouxin took to the office to read and guess one by one, whether it resembled the handwriting on the prosecution letter.

Then the staff were asked to learn from Xiao Jinzhuang’s “poetry contest”. Wang Shouxin first made an opening statement, that is, a mobilisation report, as usual, is very vivid and lively:

“We have a Fu Zhigao in the fuel company!” Wang Shouxin straightened her black, ink-dyed hair, and she compared herself to Jiang Jie. “What’s wrong with our company? If there is, we can’t solve it ourselves, so we have to write a letter of denunciation? … I’m in my fifties, what do I want to work for?” As she spoke she began loosening her belt, and some men who knew what was coming up next lowered their heads. But she couldn’t undo her belt that day. She cried and cursed, “The person who wrote the letter will come to no good end! If he has two sons, may they both die! If he has two daughters, may they both die! Extinction to his family!”

The atmosphere at the “poetry contest” was tense. The drums were beating so loudly that it was as if Zhang Fei was about to jump out of their mouth. While the drums were being beaten, handkerchiefs were being passed around. The handkerchiefs were passed around in a hurry as if the handkerchiefs would burn, because when the drums stopped, whoever had the handkerchiefs would have to write a poem. There were apples and sweets on the table, but who was in the mood to eat them? 

At first, the poems were still critical of Lin Biao and Confucius. The further the poem goes, the more unpleasant it becomes, and the words that would not pass a swineherd’s lips. This one is even more civilised.

 “Japan’s mother, Soviets’ uncle.  

The bones of the American Empire, the flesh of Israel. 

If you ask this man about his name and surname… 

His surname is Wan and his first name is: he ain’t worth a screw!” 

Wang Shouxin was so amused that she gave a little giggle. When she did, others dared to follow.

The next poet, apparently aware of Wang Shouxin’s intentions before the meeting, drew a caricature of Qu Zhaoguo.

“He’s 5’7″, with a big mouth like a fucking X.

His face is slashed, his chin is pointed, his legs are stretched, and his neck is a bastard. 

He smiles as if he is going to do something, but in reality, he has not done anything yet.

He carries a notebook in his pocket so that he can write things down.

The campaign will come in handy so that he can petition and sue. 

He wants to bring down the party branch, and he also wants to follow his capital road!” 

Wang Shouxin listened to the poet’s poem with pleasure and handed him an apple and a handful of candy as a sign of encouragement. As soon as the poem was finished, she tensed her face and shouted in a stern voice. 

“Qu Zhaoguo, stand out!” 

Qu Zhaoguo dragged his one-metre-seven, shrinking neck, which had just been slandered, to stand in the middle of the meeting.

Wang Shouxin wasn’t done yet and added: “If a man has a good wife at home he won’t do anything dumb. Lu Yaqin, you little tart of a wife, stand next to him!”

Lu Yaqin refused to come forward. Wang Shouxin shouted again. “Go and call the militia! The only reason we maintain an army is so we can use it when we need it!” The militia did not move. “You’re on her side?” Wang Shouxin turned around and suddenly became pleasant and agreeable.

“I say, Zhaoguo, if you wrote it, why don’t you admit it?”

“I didn’t write it, so how can I admit it? It’s not a counter-standard, it’s not a vicious attack, it’s not against the Central Committee. If I wrote it, what would I be afraid of?” 

The drums were beaten again, and the poem was taken up again. Everyone had a drum in their hearts, beating incessantly. These were people who heaved coal all day long, what kind of poetry could they write? Some people racked their brains until the sweat poured out; for the rest of their lives, they would tremble whenever they heard a poem read. But if you didn’t write a poem, if you didn’t vilify someone, you would become the focus of suspicion and that was no laughing matter. Some people stole behind the backs of others to see what kind of poems they were writing. People with no education, who couldn’t come up with anything, could only stand up and recite “prose” – usually a string of nasty obscenities. 

Oh, motherland, are these the master of the People’s Republic, the master of the dictatorship of the proletariat, is this our working class? Wang Shouxin – Is this the advanced force of the working class of the Communist Party?

Which colour should be used to write this page of history?

8. Spinelessness: the disease of the times

 The fuel company is only 200 metres away from the county party building. If Wang Shouxin’s curses and the workers’ cries could not be heard, then what about the drums that “beat the drums and scolded the fuckers”? What about the big-character posters and letters of complaint? The provincial and local committees have repeatedly approved the letters of accusation? Did the local government leaders not see and hear them? 

To leaf through the minutes of the Standing Committee of the County Party Committee meetings from 1972 onward is an intensely depressing experience. Everything was discussed there – conscription, family planning, the sentencing of criminal offenders, the sowing programme … – except for the Party itself, which was rarely discussed. The Communist Party regulated everything except the Communist Party. 

1972 was really an important year in modern Chinese history. In Bin County, cadres’ banqueting and drinking — and pilfering, grabbing, embezzling, and appropriating — all reached a new high that year. Wang Shouxin’s massive embezzlement began this year. This year also coincided with the official restoration of the county committee, with Liu Zhen coming to Bin County as the first secretary of the first county committee after the Cultural Revolution.

Before his family had moved in, Wang Shouxin sent someone to clamp a board barrier to his house, bringing in black, oily coal and later good rice. There was also some interaction between the two households. But it could not be proved that Liu Zhen and Wang Shouxin were in cahoots and deliberately covered up Wang Shouxin’s criminal activities. When he left his post in 1976, he even told his successor, the female secretary, that “You have to watch out for this Wang Shouxin, she is not righteous.” This shows that he really had some vision. He did have a perspective. What he lacked was a little something else. 

The man couldn’t be more pleasant. Whether he was speaking at a meeting, receiving visitors or walking down the street, he was always smiling. His posture, voice, demeanour and walking steps were all soft and mellow as if he was making a statement to people everywhere: I bear no ill will towards anyone, please do not misunderstand me, I will not offend or harm anyone. Even those who were discontented and full of grievances could not get angry when talking to Secretary Liu, because behind his rimless glasses there was deep sympathy: he listened to your complaints with great patience and care. He seemed to be able to meet any request you may have, as long as it was within his power to do so. Of course, the truth was that he couldn’t solve any problems.

It didn’t take long for a nickname to spread: “Old Lady Secretary”. And another: “Liu Haha”. He always nodded and said yes, always “yes, yes, yes”. Once when he came home, his wife told him sadly that all the chickens in the house had died of the plague, but his reply was still: “Yes, yes, yes”.

Was he born with this personality? Not necessarily. If it was, how could it be that there were three county party secretaries in this term, all of whom were judged to be “cunning” and “treacherous”?

At the beginning of “the Cultural Revolution”, Liu Zhen was the county party secretary of Shuangcheng County. His soul (along with his body) was “touched” more deeply so that he left deeper marks. Before he came to Bin County, he was greeted again: “It’s a complicated place, few have gone in there and come out unscathed”; “Bin County, it’s quite difficult to investigate a single thing there.” He had heard about it: it had the highest number of deaths due to martial fighting and unjust cases in the whole region.

When Zhang Xiangling, the former secretary of the County Party Committee, handed over his work, he gave him a detailed account of the situation of the “rebels” and specifically instructed him that Wen Feng and the other leaders should not be reappointed in any case.

Liu Zhen listened, nodding his head, but in his heart, there was an opposite thought process going on: “I know, you have offended many people. If I don’t get on good terms with the ‘’rebels’, how will I stand up for myself? Isn’t it obvious!”

Soon after, he rehabilitated Wen Feng, who had been deposed by Zhang Xiangling to work in Binzhou town and was full of grievances, and pulled him into the Standing Committee of the County Revolutionary Committee. The rest of the leaders were also reinstated.

In 1972, soon after the county committee was restored, the standing committee made it very clear that they did not dare to fight against undesirable tendencies, and that seeking peace with people without fighting was the biggest problem of the party leadership at the moment. The secretary and the standing committee even put forward a very loud slogan: “big work fast changes, the first compound to change”, “can change or can not change, take a first look at the compound!”

Three years later, in 1975 the Standing Committee came to check again, still this problem. Do not dare to fight. Why do not dare? “Afraid to get trapped, afraid of offending people, afraid of stirring up a hornet’s nest …”

After another four years – in 1979, when Wang Shouxin’s case had been solved, the Standing Committee came again to examine the issue, still “not daring to fight”.

Is the problem of not daring to fight due to the bribery of the bad guys, for example, Wang Shouxin bribed it? It was a fact that nine of the eleven members of the County Standing Committee had accepted gifts from Wang Shouxin. However, there are also leading cadres who had not received gifts at all. For example, the director of the County Discipline Inspection Committee, she is clean. Among two or three hundred people who received gifts from Wang Shouxin, she was the only one who had resisted, the only one who had not been tainted. She was a decent comrade who joined the work in 1946 and despised all the pulling and fawning around her. When she saw that people these days “couldn’t tell right from wrong” or felt “doing one’s job is a cinch, but building up good connections is hard,” she was upset. “When will we ever be able to resolve this problem?” However, such a good comrade, but “did not see” the need for her to struggle to “solve the problem”. She was modest, diligent, hardworking and simple, meeting almost all the criteria of a “good cadre” except that she did not dare to fight against the rebels. 

Although the “Gang of Four” had fallen, the weakness and cowardice of the county committee team in front of the “rebels” remained the same. The uncovering and criticising of Bin County was not carried out until 1978. This time Wen Feng could not avoid self-criticism. But what disappointments those mass criticism sessions were to the cadres and masses of Bin County? Several scenes of the criticism of the General Assembly gave people too deep an impression: the first examination, from the language, tone, and content all looked like a report. The presiding officer of the conference was Secretary Guan. Everyone expected, that he must have an attitude, right? No attitude! During the second inspection, not much progress, Secretary Guan still had no attitude. This is very unusual. The people of Bin County were old campaign experts, and thought that according to the usual, the President should at least exert some pressure in contrast to previous campaigns. Nothing! The most puzzling thing was the third meeting. At that time, it was announced that Wen Feng had been suspended, and it was the turn of others to report themselves. That day, Wen Feng sat at the back of the meeting. People saw that Secretary Guan had sent a person from the Organisation Department to the back row to invite Wen Feng to the stage. Wen Feng was too embarrassed to come up to the stage. The following scene is beyond anyone’s (even including Wen Feng) expectations: Secretary Guan personally came down from the stage, stepped through the hall to the back row to invite Wen Feng, and Guan was only satisfied until Wen Feng took up the General Assembly Bureau position. At this point the whole audience was in an uproar, very incomprehensible: “Is this not against the public opinion?” “Isn’t this a cheer for Wen Feng and his gang!” Many people were secretly anxious for this Secretary Guan: “Old Guan, Lao Guan, what are you doing? Why aren’t you afraid of losing face in front of the whole county?” People were very disappointed and distressed. Because Old Guan was the old man out of the land reform in Bin County, in the past the struggle against the enemy had been known for being resolute and bold, nicknamed “Guan Tough”, this was a glorious title! Everyone had always believed that he was a trustworthy and decent person in the county committee team. Wang Shouxin’s matter came out, and people discussed it privately, saying: “No matter how many people in the county party building have a link, Guan Tough will not have.” This time, how do you make a fool of yourself on the spot and call the big guys down? 

The standing committee and secretaries sometimes were full of explanations for their easy treatment of the “rebels”, including Wang Shouxin. One of them said in self-criticism that: “Defending the United Federation” liberated him and “united: him, which made him grateful. Another secretary, the situation was completely opposite, the “rebels” had persecuted him, and he was afraid that people would say he was revenge, so he dared not fight with the “rebels”. In fact, the root cause is obviously: the “rebel faction” was always a political force that should not be underestimated.

In short, everybody feared offending this group or that group, but was quite happy offending the “masters” of our People’s Republic – the people!

There is one person among the various county party secretaries who has a special situation and deserves a separate mention.

Wei Gao, was one of three members of the County Party Committee in 1972-76 in the seniority and level of higher, the same “cunning” and the same good wine and greedy. In 1972, on a standing committee of the County Party Committee, people’s evaluation of him was: always bypass the problem and present opinions at the back. Wei being cunning, all parties were satisfied; the principle was ambiguous, rather than take a step back to ensure peace, not afraid to misunderstand the loss of work. There were also advantages to his personality: considerate, good at discussing with people.

He was then the county secretary in charge of finance and trade, Wang Shouxin’s top boss, and knew Wang like the back of his hand. Through careful observation and consideration, he decided to become in-laws with Wang Shouxin.

The Weis went together with the matchmaker. His wife spoke first, asking Old Lady You to introduce their daughter Xiaoxia to Wang Shouxin’s youngest son Liu Zhizhong. But Ms You was not willing to be the matchmaker, she said:

“Secretary Wei, your official star is flourishing, why do you think you need an old lady like me to make a match for you? Haven’t you got offers all over the place?” The couple insisted that she should do it, and she said:

“Do you know the backgrounds of her family very well? … Wang Shouxin and I are both from Manjing, she was not very righteous when she was young …”

“That was all a long time ago,” Wei Gao interrupted old Ms You: “Now that she’s older, she doesn’t act that way anymore.”

Old Ms You had to agree, saying, “OK, if you really want to hook up with a deadbeat family, I will make a trip.”

It was the Wei Gao couple with their daughter who took the initiative to visit Wang’s family. The couple also both went to the photo studio once to meet the aunt – he was the deputy director of the revolutionary committee there. Wang Shouxin was not quite satisfied with the marriage, suspecting that the girl was not pretty enough.

The wedding was done quietly, and even several county party secretaries heard about it afterwards and wondered: Why did Wei Gao have to tie the knot with the old Wang family? This was not a good match after all.

Li Yongquan, deputy director of the county planning commission, once took the opportunity to go to a meeting in Harbin, with Wei Gao said about Wang Shouxin: “You are the county’s largest official, and you might want to help your in-law’s mother … She has quite a reputation outside, treats and gifts, squandering and wasteful, making a pandemonium …” Li Yongquan gave many examples while saying that he observed Wei Gao’s reaction. He had no expression but could see that all this he knew, but simply did not want to care. Finally, his reply was, “All this is hard to believe.”

Li Yongquan regretted it. He now realised that this fellow’s reputation was well deserved, that he really was a sly old fox. Just look at that reply of his: neither denying that Wang Shouxin had these problems nor affirming that it is true.

Perhaps because of his slyness, during the seven-year-long time, people always thought that Wang Shouxin was bent on this marriage, and intended to find a backer. It was not until Wang Shouxin’s case was solved after another six months that the truth came out: Wei Gao had set his sights on Wang Shouxin’s money.

9. The reasons? Right under our noses!

Wang Shouxin’s case was exposed and shocked the whole country. How could such a coarse, shallow housewife muster such boldness and such ability? How could such blatant criminal activity go undetected for years? From common sense and intuition, people naturally focused on the leadership of the County Party Committee of Bin County: they were at the root of this, they were her accomplices, it was Wang Shouxin’s protective layer!

When one perceives Wang Shouxin’s case from the overall economic, political and social life of Bin County, things really seem to make sense. However, if you restored Wang Shouxin and her criminal activities to the living, flesh and blood muscle, and connect the original blood vessels, meridians, through the whole view, the situation would be very different.

It was not difficult to observe this way. As long as one temporarily excluded the fact that Wang Shouxin had more than 500,000 yuan of cash hidden in the black vault, Wang Shouxin and her activities were far less eye-catching and frightening than the truth of corruption as now exposed.

What we see in this case was: a plainly dressed, frank, hardworking old lady running around in and out of Bing County all day long, for the county to get coal, cars, fertiliser and cement.

Her treats and gifts were indeed of a large scale. But which unit did not invite gifts? “Wherever there is no oil poured, there is no functioning”, was still the general principle. From the fuel company out of the food trucks running on the Bin County – Harbin highway, at the same time, the special car full of “Binzhou Daqu” from the Bin County distillery, another transport apples to the “top rank” from fruit companies, also drove on the same highway. Even within the Bin County, economic sectors also tended to “tribute” between each other. Wang Shouxin’s food base, health resort, Baishi sales department was famous for their banquets, but almost every section of Bin County had small canteens, small guest houses and small warehouses, and eating like a horse with corruption was everywhere. Wang Shouxin was indeed worthy of a large coal hegemony in Bin County, but not the only one.  There was an electric oligarch in Bin County – the manager of the electricity department was known as a “millionaire”. The annual expenditure was as much as ten or twenty thousand yuan just for treats and gifts, eating and drinking. And Wang Shouxin’s fuel company, like the electricity department,  had to constantly send tribute to the “top” leaders.

As far as 1964, the county party secretary Tian Fengshan had a great determination to eliminate the phenomenon of clientelism at dinner. The result was only a temporary brake on the social climate of clientelism at dinner. After 1970, Zhang Xiangling came back to continue the corruption fight, but during his term of office, the popularity of clientelism at dinner even developed instead. The integrity and revolutionary spirit of these two secretaries were beyond doubt, but both failed to achieve their goals. After 1972, the county party committee even specified that no more than four dishes were allowed to be served to guests and no alcohol provided. In fact, it was never implemented. The county party committee’s guest house had to subsidise this expense by 2,000 yuan from its income every year. The various sections of the county revolutionary committee run their own guest houses, and all of them subsidised the cadres’ clientelism at dinner with their income – not only eating, but also taking, not only eating and taking by themselves, but also taking by their family members. The county party committee had also issued an order to stop all such guest houses, but it did not work completely.

Wang Shouxin built the house, with indeed the embezzlement of public funds, but the bricks and tiles did not have the mark of her corruption. And there were many other houses built through embezzlement of various sorts. Aren’t those who live in these houses resting easily in their good fortune even today, with no fear that they might ever be prosecuted for their misdeeds? A prime example is the new house of Yang, secretary of the party committee and director of the largest towel factory in Bin County.

That was originally an annex to the factory, designed to ensure water purification, and the house was relatively simple with a water tower on the top. Yang took the liberty to greatly improve the building specifications, cut the water tower, and turned an industrial building into his private residence. The four-room house alone used twenty-one tons of cement alone. 

Yang differed from Wang Shouxin only in that he used state materials and labour rather than paper money. But was there any difference in substance?

It can be seen that the social climate was bad, the gradual legalisation of illegal activities, the phenomenon of moral degradation gradually became commonplace, and so on, these phenomena themselves first cover Wang Shouxin’s criminal activities. Now, even the boundary between legal and illegal was quite blurred. Where was the line between legitimate gifts and bribes? Using public money to eat and drink, disguised appropriation of public property (e.g., “trial”, “try-on”, “try-eat” …) Where was the line between embezzlement and theft? The former was legal and even morally indisputable, but in reality, it was sometimes bribery and embezzlement in nature, and the amount of public property violated and appropriated sometimes went far beyond bribery or embezzlement.

When exploring deeper, we would find something new again.

Back to the residence of Yang. His four rooms, apparently could not use twenty-one tons of cement, although, in order to be sturdy and sophisticated, he went against the norm, the four indoor walls were not plastered with white plaster but coated with a thick layer of cement. It turned out that this was the case: the industrial section manager Du was also establishing a private residence at the same time. Yang’s site “lost” a lot of construction materials and semi-finished products. Two residential buildings were completed one after another. Yang and Du’s relationship had also become more intimate than ever.

It was this “relationship” that we must concentrate on to observe and study. Section manager Du had protected and would continue to protect Factory Manager Yang; Factory Manager Yang had defended and supported and would continue to defend and support Section Manager Du. This was not a linear relationship. Among Yang and Du around, each had their own gang of people. Yang had a hobby, beginning with his work at the county labour union in the 1960s, through several job changes leading to his present one at the towel factory, in each place he engaged in extramarital relations. Yet he could always come away untainted-like a duck waddling out of the water with its feathers dry. How did he do it? Manager Du also had the same hobby, the difference was in the process of satisfying this hobby, he did not hesitate to harm people in the way or may harm his lover, and at least two wrongful cases were manufactured by him for this purpose. He could also maintain those innocent victims being guilty. And what did he rely on? The same way: people and guanxi.

Many of the middle- to upper-level cadres in Bin County came from the countryside during the land reform in 1945. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, their children had reached marriageable age. There were only 30,000 residents in the county, and the number of cadres with the right families was even smaller. Thus, in-laws and in-laws’ in-laws’ relations added a new layer to the already considerable roles of family, relatives, friends, old classmates, old colleagues, old superiors and subordinates, as well as the “I’ve done you a favour, you’ve done me a favour” relationship. Even in terms of the breadth of relationships alone, in-laws had doubled the original feudal relationships. An equally important (if not more important) change was that the Cultural Revolution wove a new layer of political relations between people. Belonging to the same “faction”, having shared the same hardships, and sheltering each other, could turn people who had never known each other before into brothers in just a few years! When they met, they really did call each other “big brother” and “old brother”, whilst the relationship between Communist Party members and revolutionary comrades was eclipsed.

“In Bing County, it’s hard to figure out how people relate to each other. It’s as if there’s a special switch in people, you get involved with one person, you don’t want to be but are suddenly involved with a whole network.” People who had lived in Bing County for some time often introduced this experience to new outsiders first.

In 1972, a member of the Standing Committee of the County Committee from abroad expressed the following sentiment:

“I can’t do it without Marxism-Leninism, but there are many obstacles. The relationship between people has become so complex! You want to do things according to a policy, but it’s often very difficult, as it might involve this or that. No matter what you do, somebody will take offence, and some problems will arise. There are so many riddles, so much to untangle.”

County Standing Committee meeting, even if you were having the meeting in the County Armed Forces Department Operations Room which was a top-secret place, as long as the issue involving people, would soon reach the ears of that person, and then it would become a major difficulty in the handling and transfer of cadres. Just brewing or having decided on someone’s placement, they would immediately know, so they would come to appeal, protest and go around to ask for support. Things often ended in a stalemate.

When someone got into trouble, ten people would intercede for him. When a complaint came in, all concerned would seek guanxi with the good offices. If someone were to come and say to you that someone had promised to help, and all we needed was you – What could you do? Would you adhere to the rules? And risk offending everyone in sight? Or turn a blind eye, lift a hand and let them pass? Unless there is a very strong party spirit, who would be such a monster as to refuse?

Some people conclude that: everything in China has been messed up by people who are afraid of offending others.

So there were repeated such strange things: obviously, the matter was very serious, and even raised a tumult in the town. Everyone would insist that something be done about it. Yet as soon as somebody was sent to investigate, the matter disappeared. In 1972, the people of Manjing reported that an official named Chen, who was in charge of the supply and marketing agency, was constantly doing clientelism at dinner and having illicit relations with women. The problem was serious. Since this cooperative was serving as an official model for the whole province at that time, something definitely had to be done. The local Standing Committee consulted with their secretary and decided to send someone to investigate. After a period of time, they came back to report that there was no big problem. Seven years had passed, and it was recently found that this fellow named Chen was indeed an embezzler and had indeed been engaging in a long-term promiscuous relationship. 

Over the years, political movements were launched year after year in Bin County, but one thing was mystifying: as all these movements, or class struggles, as they were also called, became fiercer and fiercer, the evildoers felt more and more at ease. It was the good people who kept being victimised. Some were unjustly framed; others were subjected to attack and revenge for their exposing evildoers. 

Complex personal relationships, layers upon layers of interlocking connections, formed a dense and thick net. Any Marxist-Leninist principle, any party plan or policy that came into contact with this net would be struck dead as if electrocuted. When an enterprise got entangled in the net, its socialist design would come undone; when a legal case fell into the net, the dictatorship of the proletariat would get twisted out of shape. Right and wrong became thoroughly confused, and reward and punishment turned upside-down. Truth yielded to falsity; the good-hearted were ruled by the vicious.

“Why do good people look bad and bad people look good?” At one point, the county committee discussed this issue in the standing committee. In fact, much more was at stake than merely looking good or bad. The crowd said: “In Bin County, the good guys suffer, the bad guys look great!” 

Just look at the great pride of that repeated offender Zhao Chun, who always managed to evade the law and go scot-free. This person had been in the party since 1969 through the “rebel faction” and had stolen timber and other state materials many times, and each time he had committed a crime. Each case could be investigated, but only could not be sanctioned. The county party committee stipulated that those who owed public money were not allowed to build private houses, but he owed public money and lived in public housing, and could use public building materials to build a new house. He stole stone prepared for war for the house foundation. When the tractor overturned, the pension of the dead driver’s family and tractor repair cost of nearly 10,000 yuan would be reimbursed by the state, and he sold the construction of the “house frame”, all money fell into their own pockets.

Zhao Chun still drove a car rampage, and sometimes deliberately rushed the car towards Han Cheng, a towel factory’s security officer, and slammed on the brakes right in front of him. Zhao Chun’s aim had been to threaten and torment the person who was in charge of prosecuting his crimes. “Just watch it, remember I can kill you anytime I want!” As for the frequent cursing and abuse of Han Cheng, it is not uncommon.

What about Han Cheng? Not only did he get no support, but he was also removed from his position as a defence officer. He was now carrying the incriminating materials of Zhao Chun’s repeated crimes, going around to sue, but never to be heard.

Could there be a more obvious and outrageous reversal than this? Han Cheng was not the only defence officer in Bin County who had been bullied by the bad guys.

Why was it that in the socialist Bin County under the leadership of the Communist Party, and three whole years after the fall of the Gang of Four, this half-human half-monstrous behaviour could continue unabated?

The mystery is simple. Zhao Chun has a “relationship”, in addition to the “rebel” brothers, he also had a valuable uncle – vice minister of the county party committee organisation department, Lu. Lu vice minister and Du section manager were a gang. And we already knew the relationship between the Du section manager and the towel factory director Yang. And the Yang factory director was the one who removed Han Cheng from his position. Zhao Chun committed several crimes, which took place in the towel factory. He destroyed the tractor and pension, and the Yang factory director was there to reimburse him.

The veil of brotherly righteousness, gratitude, family and friendships and other warm feelings concealed a naked relationship of power brokerage. One side would invest a peach (either a material benefit or the means to obtain one, derived, in either case, from a position of power), and the other side would answer with a plum (direct or indirect material benefits to repay).

This was another social condition that had been created to cover for Wang Shouxin, and continues to cover for more criminals.

10. Little guys do big things

There were two non-important people in Bing County, who dared to defy this magical and all-powerful net and challenge it.

One is Liu Changchun, whom we already know. Wang Shouxin despised him, and often looked at his back and said, “Look at that sparrow bone!” And then spit a mouthful of spittle. She failed to realise how tough Liu Changchun’s thin and small skeleton would be: the “rebels” and the military representatives did not overwhelm him, and the long years of hardship did not wear away his fighting spirit. For the final victory over Wang Shouxin, Liu Changchun played a role that could not be underestimated.

First, he was jailed as an “anti-Army” and a “counter-revolutionary” and put into the prison, and later he was downgraded to a “bad element” and put into the prison of his original unit. After he came out, he was subjected to heavy hard labour for more than ten hours a day, and was paid only twenty yuan a month for “living expenses”. He also had a wife at home who was bedridden with a serious heart condition, and under the arrangement of Wang Shouxin’s son, Liu Zhizhong, the deputy director of Xinli Commune, the hospital would not give him medical treatment or medicine. Finally, he was ordered to join the cadres who were eliminated as “old personnel” to go to the brigade. At this time, Liu Changchun was completely broke and hungry, so he had no choice but to sell his only possessions, two and a half houses, for four hundred yuan. His wife’s condition worsened after he went to the countryside and she died soon afterwards. In the rural labour period for four and a half years, among more than a thousand devolved personnel, Liu Changchun was the last one to return to Bin County.

By this time, Wang Shouxin had become a major figure in Bin County. The home furnishings and living standards were as good as the provincial party secretary. She was constantly besieged by people bringing her gifts and asking her to do things. Liu Changchun had been left all alone – his wife dead and gone, his property wiped out, with no penny to his name.

Liu Changchun suffered in this life for being argumentative. He had already become unpopular during the few years before the Cultural Revolution. He had always liked to speak up about anybody.

Returning from the countryside, Liu saw Wang Shouxin had built several houses. “Where did she get so much money?” He began to investigate. He sought out Qu Zhaoguo, who liked to gossip; Qu revealed that Wang Shouxin had once lent 10,000 yuan in cash to the provincial fuel company. When Qu was about to leave he scrutinised Liu Changchun carefully, understanding his intentions, resourcefulness through the brain and the power of the two sides over the scale, asked, “You think you can report her?”

“That depends on whether she had problems!” Liu Changchun had not changed from earlier years. To see his spirit of determination and self-confidence you would have thought he was a prefectural Party secretary. 

Liu Changchun at this time had suspected Wang Shouxin of corruption, the problem was to find reliable evidence. He used to be engaged in planning statistics and knew that she could not embezzle so much money merely through fraudulent “supplementary wages”. He went looking for old Wu:

“How is the markup of coal outside the plan handled on the “daily balance”? Can you tell how much coal from the small pit was sold?”

Old Wu said, “No, I can’t. Usually they reported only the price of 24.8 yuan per ton. Can’t tell plus fifteen yuan a piece.” He also said, “in the accounting report that they made every ten days or so, they wrote at the bottom of each column: received, such-and-such an amount for transport charges of small-pit coal.”

How to write a coal ticket? A person who worked as a salesman in Baishi told him that when selling coal, two tickets were issued, the original price and the additional transport and miscellaneous charges were separated, and the latter ticket was not handed in, and was thrown anywhere.

“So, all embezzled?” Liu Changchun was excited.

“Who knows! They will not let us know …”

“That’s OK” Liu Changchun secretly calculated: a year to sell 90,000 tons of coal, assuming that the 10,000 tons as small pit coal sales, they can earn 150,000 yuan more, five years down is 750,000 yuan! How to check? Easy! Cast the net wide-ask each unit in the entire county to examine its receipts for coal purchases.

This big discovery greatly encouraged Liu Changchun. So he went on to investigate and study the production quantity of potatoes, soybeans that Wang Shouxin planted on that dozens of land; how many fish did she get in one year from a labour force of four men? How much money could she embezzle from the supplementary wages of her temporary and seasonal labour?

It was no coincidence that there was another person who had also started to challenge Wang Shouxin’s embezzlement. His name was Shi Huailiang, a worker for the Medicine Company.

Back in 1972, he had put up a big-character poster entitled: “Wang Shouxin is the key to solving the problems of Bin County”.

What distinguished Shi Huailiang from Liu Changchun was that he cared and thought about a wider range of issues. He would sometimes do something surprising without saying a word.

In 1972, he suddenly had the bright idea of sending ten yuan to Chairman Mao. On the remittance slip, he wrote in writing, “This is for Party dues, please accept it. Shi Huailiang.”

It was a strange thing that almost led to a disaster for Shi Huailiang. The money order was later returned by a department. Leaders and party members of the Medicine Company questioned Shi Huailiang: “You are obviously not a party member, what party dues do you have to pay?” “What do you mean by sending money to Chairman Mao to pay party dues?” They in turn gave their own answers: one, “You are a big fan of joining the Party, so that you are simply obsessed!” Two, “You’re a psychopath!”

Why was it a sin to be “obsessed” with “joining the Party”? It must be because “joining the Party” is not for the public but for private gain. What basis was there for saying that Shi Huailiang joined the Party for the sake of promotion and wealth rather than for the sake of devotion to the communist cause? They were seeing their own faults in someone else. Or was it that this reasoning reflects a situation that actually exists: that joining the Party can indeed be, and had in fact become, a means of personal gain?

But wasn’t this what worried Shi Huailiang, the real reason why he paid his dues to Chairman Mao? He had been applying for membership for years. Later, he became somewhat puzzled: a man from Xindian Grain Depot was expelled three months after joining the Party, for snapping up more than 20,000 pounds of grain. A man from the county grain department was expelled again after four months of membership because he was a nascent bourgeoisie member. There were also those who were isolated and examined within three days of joining the Party. Once he found out, that all these people had committed crimes before joining the Party. So how did such people manage to get into the Party? He went on a business trip to Harbin and other counties and heard that many people had been admitted without being approved by the party organisation and were called “specially approved” party members, having joined the party through guanxi. He thought: “If this goes on, there will be more of these people, and the party will deteriorate, won’t it? … This is a serious problem!” What can we do to let Chairman Mao know? I’m afraid that if I write a letter, Chairman Mao won’t receive it, and besides, it will be a problem once it’s turned down. I thought about it for a long time and came up with a way to send a hint to Chairman Mao by sending a “party fee”. Chairman Mao must have thought, “Why didn’t this person give the party dues to the county committee, but sent them to me? There must be something wrong with the Party in that place, right? As long as Chairman Mao thought this way and gave his approval, he, Shi Huailiang, would be able to report the problems of the Party in Bin County to the higher party committee with confidence and boldness.

He had a good idea. He did not expect it to go against his wishes, as the matter only brought him endless criticism, and the problem was not reported. But this convinced him even more that the party organisation was really in trouble and that it could not be fixed.

Shi Huailiang’s concern for things outside his purview was one of the symptoms of his “mental illness”.

Unlike Liu Changchun, Shi Huailiang was much more stable and honest, often with a silly smile on his face, unlike a man who was combative and had a tendency to get on people’s nerves. His “mental illness” is characterised by his sensitivity to the plight of the masses, as if he had a nerve in his body that was constantly ready to reach out to unconnected people on the roadside. He did not talk much, he was slow and deliberate. The energy that others spent on talking he would devote to thought. Why was it that after only one disaster in 1976, when the production in Bin County had not yet been extinguished (there were still more than 170 kilograms per acre), there was a shortage of food, clothing and firewood to such an extent that – why did there have to be national emergency allocations of money, food, and coat? Why was there a big drive in the county seat for contributions of winter clothing? Why, even with these measures, did so many peasant families have to burn the grass on their roofs and the wood along their beds to keep warm? After so many years of socialism, why were we still so poor at both the collective and individual level? … He often studied a bit of Marx, Lenin and Chairman Mao’s works every night. Because of his meagre income, he could only buy the thinner single-volume books, but he was still well versed in the Anti-Dühring Doctrine. Despite his low level of education, he occasionally had to write a social research report or something, as if he were a researcher at the Bin County branch of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. This was not a joke. There were many people in Bin County more learned and literate than him, and plenty who were better writers, but I have never seen anyone who treats the unpaid investigation of social issues as voluntary work like Shi Huailiang.

So, naturally, his eyes fell on the inside of the medicine company. And from this moment, a new chapter in his life began, one entitled: “It is a misfortune to love thinking. Worrying about the country must come at the expense of the individual”, or as it was called: “Virtue is not its own reward”.

The first eye-catching phenomenon he saw was one of the aspects of the guanxi problem that we had written about: Secretary Pan came to the medicine company and set up his own small team and circle within the leadership team, and made the old leaders go away one by one. The new leadership team, out of five people, four people were not union members! After his two years as a secretary, Secretary Pan suddenly struck it rich. When he arrived he had owed the public treasury more than 1300 yuan, and two years later he had returned it all. Not only that, his son had bought a moped and a hunting rifle, and his family also bought a high-level radio, watches and clocks. His salary was only 54 yuan and 50 cents. Shi Huailiang further observed the relationship between people within the company and wrote his conclusion on a later big-character poster: “… Strangely enough, the individual leader of my company, although living in a socialist society in the 1970s, was dreaming the beautiful dream of an eighteenth-century feudal emperor, whose doctrine or credo is: ‘I am the world’. He would screw anyone who disobeyed him. The workers of the medicine company had no civil rights at all and had become slaves, while the leader could do whatever he wanted to the workers, changing the nature of a company that is owned by all …”

When Shi Huailiang was about to put up another big-character poster for Wang Shouxin, someone came to advise him, “Forget it, you can’t fight against them.” He laughed and said,
“That doesn’t matter. History will record it. Someone has opposed Wang Shouxin. That will work too.”

After Wang Shouxin’s greedy nature was exposed, he wrote another big-character poster and posted it in person in the county party building. It was a rather chic big-character poster with the headline “A Satellite for Social Science”. It began with the following words.

“In the 1970s, several sessions of the leadership of the County Party Committee of Bin County succeeded in sending out a social bourgeois artificial satellite for social science in China. She has not only provided the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences with valuable scientific information, but I think it is of reference value to all socialist countries in the world. Wang Shouxin had no factories, no land, and no shops or other private means of production in his hands, but she was able to store as much as 414,800 yuan in money and more than 900 kinds of goods, making her a wealthy woman. I believe that there is some scientific justification for the creation and development of Wang Shouxin, otherwise she could not have existed. For this reason, dissecting and analysing her will contribute to the development of human society and social science. Therefore, I advise the main leaders of the several county committees implicated with Wang Shouxin (excluding Zhang Xiangling and the relevant section chiefs) not to be afraid and not to consider only the issue of personal responsibility, but to talk out the whole process and draw lessons from the fate of the party and the country to the provincial committee and the central government in a realistic manner …” 

This was a very useful and necessary big-character poster.

11. Joy lined with worry

In 1978, Bing County launched a “double strike” campaign. On 1 August, Liu Changchun was the first person to post a big-character poster exposing Wang Shouxin’s embezzlement.

On 5 August, the county committee’s work team moved into the fuel company. It was said that this time the county committee was determined against corruption. The battle was won, but it also revealed problems.

The Communist Party’s county committee sent a work team to one of the enterprises to clear up problems there, and this work team was not even supported by the local party organisation there! Throughout, not a single Communist Party member denounced Wang Shouxin’s problems to the work team.

The team leader, Gu Zhuo, was a smart and capable comrade, and he and many of his team members worked tirelessly to do their best. But for three months, no conclusive material was available to prove that Wang Shouxin was involved in corruption.

Gu Zhuo acknowledged that the only important information supplied to his work team during the investigation came from Liu Changchun. This person was also the only one who took it upon himself to bring the information to the door. He said to Gu Zhuo with great excitement:

“Wang Shouxin’s headquarter is in Baishi (Later, hundreds of thousands of yuan did indeed turn up in her illicit treasury at the Baishi sales department). She passed off state-run coal as small pit coal and raised the price. I’ll bet my head that she was corrupted! I think she might even be the biggest embezzler in the country.”

“Bullshit!” Gu Zhuo was unconvinced. As it turned out, Liu Changchun was right on all counts.

Liu Changchun’s following words choked Gu Zhuo’s lungs again.

“I have said this to Secretary Guan and the provincial and local leaders. If you don’t clear things up here you’ll have to pay for it, and I’ll report you!”

Liu Changchun’s old habit of not being afraid to offend people irritated Gu Zhuo: “I’d like you to talk to the county committee and replace me! Do you think this is a piece of cake?”

Gu Zhuo remembered Liu Changchun’s words, “If I don’t get rid of Wang Shouxin, I’m not going to close my eyes when I die!” He thought, how could you talk like that? Wasn’t that a personal grudge? He didn’t question himself: why was he not allowed to have a personal grudge against the forces of evil? Liu Changchun’s family had been destroyed by the social forces that Wang Shouxin represented. Could anyone marvel that the White-Haired Girl hated Huang Shiren? (In the famous story “The White-Haired Girl”) Those members of the fuel company had no personal grudge against Wang Shouxin, but they did not even have a “public” grudge…

I can’t blame Comrade Gu Zhuo for this. For many years it had been a popular idea to separate and oppose the individual from the collective. How many legitimate, even good and noble individual wishes, feelings and aspirations have been trampled underfoot as “individualism”…

The work team did not take seriously the important information provided by Liu Changchun because of the various prejudices against him. Another important piece of information that was also ignored was a letter written by a peasant from the Songjiang Brigade of the Bird River Commune on 28 August to “Secretary Guan of the County Party Committee for his personal receipt”. That letter provided the county committee with nineteen major points of suspicion about Wang Shouxin, all of which were well documented. Moreover, the first of the nineteen coincided with Liu Changchun, who also pointed out that the price increase of “small pit coal” was the main way of Wang Shouxin’s embezzlement. The letter also pointed out where the problem lay and gave the county committee specific clues and ideas on how to proceed with the investigation.

It seemed that the work team did not see this letter, or ignored it. Otherwise, why would they have continued to “eat badly, sleep badly and be very annoyed” in September and October, not only to find out whether Wang Shouxin had embezzled or not, but also to worry about making another wrongful case on Wang Shouxin and “having to rehabilitate her in the future, which is too miserable”? They just had to go straight to Baishi, interrogate Ma Zhanqing and Sun Xiyin to open up the gaps and it would not be difficult to solve the case.

The problem with the work team was the same as that with the county committee. Both were divorced from the masses and therefore divorced from reality. What exposed the problem to an amusing degree was the attitude towards the head of the commercial section, Zhao Yu. After the work team came down to the scene, it was an important clue to ask Zhao Yu about Wang Shouxin’s problems. Zhao Yu’s relationship with Wang Shouxin was no secret: he had been appointed by Commissar Yang in 1969 to be the first in command of the Party Committee of the Commercial Bureau, with Wang Shouxin as the second. He suppressed letters from the public against Wang Shouxin and did not investigate or ask questions; he backed up Wang Shouxin when she drove a large number of workers out of the fuel company. He was also the one who praised Wang Shouxin at a meeting of 1,000 employees of the Commercial Bureau for her “strict control of the enterprise, her shut-down of the evil spirit, and her good job of tearing up the driving licence!”

In 1976, Zhao Yu was engaged in route education in the Bird River Commune and lived in the Baishi Sales Department. The commune cadres, the workers of Baishi and the members of the nearby community denounced to him the problems of Wang Shouxin, Ma Zhanqing’s rampant bullying, wasteful spending, high coal prices and chaotic financial system, etc. He suppressed them and threatened, “Old Ms Wang is not to be messed with! Don’t make things difficult for yourselves!”

In 1977, when the Party Committee of the Commercial Section was rectifying the situation, Shi Huailiang, the worker of the medicine company, wrote four big-characters posters that were right on the mark in exposing Wang Shouxin. But Zhao Yu did not allow them to be posted.

After Liu Changchun posted the big-characters posters exposing Wang Shouxin, Zhao Yu gloated, “This guy Liu Changchun has really made his mark. He’s the only one who jumped out at 500,000 people, and sooner or later he’ll have to suffer for it!” Shi Huailiang wrote a big-character poster in support of Liu Changchun. Zhao Yu then ordered the work team that was stationed at the medicine company, besieging it for more than ten times in small meetings and conferences, trying to make Shi Huailiang a counter-revolutionary.

It was precisely at the time Zhao Yu had ordered this persecution of Shi Huailiang that the Party work team at the fuel company went to him to investigate Wang Shouxin’s crimes. How absurd can you get?

But absurdities were everywhere. Here there was a work team sent to the fuel company to clear up Wang Shouxin’s problems by the Communist Party Committee, and at the same time cadres of the Communist Party were to demolish the county committee and the work team, and this one went to reveal to Wang Shouxin that she was the focus of the campaign and to tell her to be careful. That one went to her to forge an offensive and defensive alliance. The third went to plan with Wang Shouxin how to escape the potential attacks. See a conversation between the director of the Agricultural Office of the County Revolutionary Committee and Wang Shouxin at the fuel company five days before the team moved in in August 1978:

“I’ve come simply to warn you that there is a work team on the way. You are the target; they’re going to put you on the stand….. I want it back before it incriminate me.”

“Impossible. This is a normal relationship. … Can you ask Liu to come here as the leader of the work team?”

“I’m only in charge of agriculture, I can’t say anything.”

“If you could arrange to send a woman, I could run her ragged, completely wear her out. Can you find a way to send a woman?”

“Don’t try to choose who’ll be sent. Whomever they send will be tougher than Xun Hongjun, who made me suffer so much last year. Meng is a better person, stable …. Liu Changchun went to my house one day and urge me to attack you, but I wouldn’t.”

After two days, this person still went to Liu: “Where did you appoint? If not, come to the fuel company!”

Ah, guanxi, it is all that magic guanxi!

The process of solving the case was complex and exciting, especially in the way several hundred people were mobilised to track down and recover the stolen money. Unfortunately, we had something more important to say that couldn’t satisfy the reader. 

That more important thing is that after Zhou Lu confessed to the work team that he and Wang Shouxin had embezzled together, he begged the work team to protect him.

“You have to be responsible for my safety. If she knows that I have told you everything, she will kill me … What if she comes to my house in the middle of the night and calls on my door and destroys my house?”

After Sun Xiyin gave an account of his crime, the work team sent someone to guard him beginning the night he confessed. That had delighted him, he was also afraid that Wang Shouxin would fix him up and wanted protection.

Liu Changchun’s situation was different, but some kind-hearted people also came to him specifically to advise him: “From now on, you should be careful when you go out in the dark. Wang Shouxin hates you so much that she would be willing to pay 10,000 yuan for your life.”

Even journalists and researchers, who came to learn about the situation in Bin County and Wang Shouxin, were greeted the same when they left: “Next time you come back, you must pay attention to your personal safety. Don’t see Wang Shouxin locked up, the situation in Bin County is very complicated.”

The situation in Bin County was indeed very complicated.

How could it not be complicated? In the case of Wang Shouxin, the ten people imprisoned were all members of the Chinese Communist Party.

The former secretary of the county party committee of Bin County, the in-laws who were known for being “cunning”, were willing to hide the stolen money for Wang Shouxin. He later gave Wang Shouxin the idea: “Make a big altar, put the money underneath and put something else on top. Try to bury it as deep as possible…”

It was not just Binxian that was complicated, as Wang Shouxin’s eldest son, Liu Zhimin, was under scrutiny by the Songhua River Regional Committee in Harbin, and the crime of embezzlement was already evident, and those “brothers” who had worked for him and his wife in the past to get their jobs transferred, and to extract incriminating material from the files (for a lot of money, of course), were still as helpful as ever. Liu Zhimin was allowed to eat and drink as much as when he was free, the guards could play chess and poker with him to relieve his boredom, and he could take a small car to Acheng County, more than 100 miles away, to make an alliance with his colleagues …

The Wang Shouxin embezzlement case was solved. But how much had changed in terms of the social conditions that allowed Wang Shouxin to exist and flourish? Wasn’t it true that Wang Shouxin of all shapes and sizes, continues to corrupt socialism in every corner, continuing to corrupt the Party with impunity?

People, be vigilant! This is not the time to cheer victory …


Author’s note: For reasons that the reader can understand, the names of some characters have been changed in this article.

(1) “Ba Lizi” is a misreading and misinterpretation of the Russian word “police station”, which means prison in Northeast China.

(2) The word “揍” here (actually pronounced “揍儿”) is just a variation of the word “make”, which is the sound of the word. In Northeastern Chinese, it means the whole process of sexual intercourse, conception and birth. The word “没好揍” means “not good seed” or “bastard”, that is a swear word.

12. Notes

From the day this report was put into print, it attracted the hatred and attacks of a few people. Even the author himself was not spared. Almost three years had passed, and one or two discrepancies and further verifications in the report had been revised or deleted, but the matter was not yet finished.

What is the crime? It was said that as soon as “People or Monsters” was published, the CPC‘s Bin County Committee, which had been so successful in Wang Shouxin’s case and had never been “detached from the people and from reality”, suddenly “failed to call” and could not work because this report made “the masses become suspicious of and resistant to the county committee.” But the same article is said to have “aroused the resentment of the majority of Party members and cadres in Bin County” because it “overlooked” the “decisive role” of the county committee in solving the Wang Shouxin case and “exaggerated” the role of a few minor figures! Does this logical contradiction also reveal some differences in the attitudes of the public and the cadres towards reality and works that reflect it? (-To be examined.) This report also caused “serious disturbances” in Binxian County, which had achieved a “fundamental transformation” in terms of party style and the purity of its leadership and ideological line (years before the whole country!), after  the “Gang of Four” was defeated. To what extent was it “disrupted”? It was on par with the destruction of Lin Biao and the Gang of Four, and so on.

It was said that the creation of such characters as Wang Shouxin was caused by the “Gang of Four”, but the author of “People or Monsters” attributes it to our social conditions! This is clearly a confusion of “the line between the destruction of the Gang of Four and the existing socialist system”, in other words, it was an attack on the socialist system! No wonder he is said to be “a rightist in the past, but still a rightist now”. He hadn’t changed!

Obviously, the main accusation is: “misrepresentation”.

Misrepresentation also differs in size and severity, and there are essential differences. A reporter from Heilongjiang Daily had made such a “misrepresentation”: he wrote in a criticism of the report of someone “angry to blow up the beard and glare”, this description was “criticised” by this character as inaccurate, saying, “I had just shaved that day, so I didn’t have a beard to blow!” The “inaccuracy” of People or Monsters was indeed more serious than that, but if we used an analogy, it was not like myocardial infarction or cerebral thrombosis, but closer to a boil on the nose, which was also a disease, but not so bad as to cause a sudden death. Thus, its right to live was probably not lost because of a “comment”.

According to the people who know the situation in Heilongjiang Province and Bin County and the investigation team who visited the scene to conduct a special investigation on the “misrepresentation” of the People or Monsters, the main flaw of this piece is not so much the misrepresentation, but the failure to reveal the people and events related to the Wang Shouxin incident. The author himself feels the same way, and had decided to revisit Bin County to write a postscript before the article was published. Unfortunately, for various reasons, the author had not been able to do so, but he had not yet given up. The question is: Do those who criticise the inaccuracy of People or Monsters welcome the author to “expose the depths”? From certain signs, it seems that they may not.

One such sign was in response to the several minor characters who made an attempt to “expose” Wang Shouxin and her social base in People or Monsters, the articles by “Wu Yungang”-alike-comrades on the Heilongjiang Daily (first published in the Heilongjiang Daily on 18 February 1982, and then published in the February issue of Northern Literature, entitled Comment on the Misrepresentation of People or Monsters) criticised: “praise is exaggerated”, “the role of … over-exaggerated”, cannot considered a “heroic figure”. For those people who were not patronised, the commentary was even more derogatory and sarcastic. The only person who had not been named and blamed by ‘Wu Yungang” is Han Cheng, a security officer at the Bin County Towel Factory, who was removed from his post for defending the interests of the country and fighting resolutely against the bad guys. Did this mean that the report about him had not been “inaccurate”, right? But he also continued to be rejected and repressed, and his life was almost cut short. In the summer of 1980, Han Cheng was invited by the central investigation team to Harbin to provide testimony, but when he returned to the factory, he was criticised in a meeting of a scale beyond the team leader cadres. This showed that to defend the report literature “authenticity” of the fighter attitude, the living reality is not welcome.

The second sign was that the comrades like “Wu Yanguang” had a different ideology and feelings about the problematic people exposed in People or Monsters, who should be “revealed deeply”. “The depiction of many incidents is untrue”, “criticism of many comrades is irresponsible”, “arbitrary criticism”, “lack of factual basis”, etc. . In short, it was a strong denial of their exposure in People or Monsters. In fact, the author (of People or Monsters) had a lot of material not written in it. In addition, there were many people and events that were written in People or Monsters and not denied by author “Wu”, but those people were still climbing up their political career with promotions!?

This kind of criticism of the distinction between affinity and thickness was very clear! It could be seen that the author alone to “reveal the depth and penetration”, I am afraid that the result will only cause more “misrepresentation”.

However, this still did not prevent me from being optimistic. No one was able to stop the advance of history. After all, life was the most powerful creator, whose iron hand exposed many government officials’ corruption to disgrace, so that Liu Changchun and Han Cheng such “small people” would feel encouraged and happy? Author “Wu” was still saying that Bin County’s electricity section chief “is not what the electricity bully and ‘millionaire’ … he led the unit … now after rectification, the situation has changed”, but when the work team to combat economic crime came to investigate the electricity section, they immediately uncovered a criminal embezzlement of more than 50,000 yuan. The results of the anti-corruption war were gradually expanding.

I don’t want to give a full reply here to the criticism of the Heilongjiang Daily News, Northern Literature and the Times’ Report on the People or Monsters. I was afraid that this may not be necessary in the future, as many readers had already written pieces criticising them. After the publication of “Wu Yungang’s” article, readers had asked for a discussion on the issue in the Heilongjiang Daily. I believe the newspaper would not be unable to take a little space to discuss it. All the truth will come out eventually.

From the large number of letters from readers of People or Monsters, I learned that the people need this kind of work; its social effect was positive and healthy among the vast majority of readers, not weakening but strengthening people’s confidence in the Party and in the future of our society. These letters had taught me a great deal and had taught me what happiness can be for a writer and a journalist.