Biographies & Memoirs


Back to Manchuria—A Prisoner

THE RUSSIAN TRAIN THAT WAS USED TO TRANSPORT US arrived at the Sino-Soviet frontier on the evening of July 31, 1950. The captain in charge explained that he would have to wait until morning to complete our transfer to the Chinese government officials and exhorted me to sleep well and with a composed mind. Ever since boarding the train I had been separated from my family and placed in a compartment with the Russian officers. Although they had joked with me and given me beer and candy, I still felt that they were sending me to my death. I was sure that as soon as I set foot on Chinese soil my life would be finished.

I kept my eyes open and could not sleep. Later, I sat up to repeat some Buddhist prayers and heard footsteps approaching the train from the station. They sounded like a company of soldiers, but when I looked out, I could see no one. After a while, the sound went away and all that was left was a distant electric light glinting with an ill-omened beam. I sighed, turned over in my berth and stared absent-mindedly at the empty wineglass on the table near the window.

The captain had said to me, while he had been drinking, “By daybreak you will see your homeland. It is an important event in one’s life to return to one’s motherland and you can rest well. The Communist Party is the most civilized in the world and the people of China are, of all peoples, the most broad-minded.” I stared maliciously at him. He was in the opposite berth and had begun to snore.

Your words, your wine and your candies, they are all lies, I thought to myself. My life is like the dewdrops on the windowpane. Once the sun comes up, everything will evaporate. You surely sleep very soundly!

In my mind, I had no motherland, only ancestors. To me the Communist Party could only be associated with “raging floods and wild beasts” and it was absurd to speak about civilization in the same breath. Admittedly the Soviet Russians had not given me inhuman treatment. However, Soviet Russia was one of the Allies and could not do what it wished, but as far as China was concerned, the situation was different. The Communist party of China had defeated Chiang Kai-shek and could do whatever it liked without restrictions or fear. Once I fell into the hands of these people, there would be no way for me to stay alive.

The following morning, when the captain asked me to follow him to the Chinese representatives, I wondered whether I would have the courage, once I reached the moment of truth, to shout “Long life to the ancestors of the Great Ch’ing.” It was in such a state of mind that I was led into a compartment in which there were seated two Chinese, one in civilian clothes and the other in a khaki uniform without insignia or rank but with a label on which was written Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The two stood up and said a few words to the Soviet captain and then the one in civilian clothes turned around and said to me, “I am here by order of the Prime Minister, Chou En-lai, to receive you. Now you have returned to your homeland.”

I bowed my head waiting for him to handcuff me, but he only stared at me emotionlessly. They know I cannot escape, I thought.

Later, I followed the Soviet captain out of the compartment to the station platform, where there were two rows of soldiers drawn up; on one side Russians, on the other, Chinese. We walked between them toward a train on the opposite side of the platform. In the short moment it took to cross the platform I thought of the 8,000,000 soldiers of Chiang Kai-shek who had been eliminated by these people and felt, as a result, that in their eyes I was perhaps no more important than a tiny insect.

As soon as I boarded the train, I saw my family and the other Manchukuo detainees. They all sat straight, but they were neither handcuffed nor bound with rope. I was led to a seat near the end of the car where one of the soldiers placed my leather suitcase on the baggage rack overhead. After I sat down, I tried to see what the troops outside were doing, but discovered that the windows had been pasted over with newspapers. When I looked at the ends of the car I noticed a guard at each end with a rifle and fixed bayonet.

The atmosphere was so ominous that my heart nearly came to a stop, and when I looked at the prisoners near me I saw on their faces the color of death. After a while, a man who was not carrying a rifle, and who seemed to be an officer, walked to the center of the car.

“Well, you have rejoined the homeland,” he said. “You people can rest assured that the Central People’s Government have made proper arrangements for all of you. There are medical attendants on the train and whoever feels ill may visit them for treatment.”

What did this mean? “The homeland!” “Proper arrangements; rest assured that if you feel sick you may see the medical attendants.” Oh, I understood. It was to calm our minds in order to avoid an incident while en route!

Later, several soldiers brought in a basket of rice bowls and chopsticks and distributed a set to each of us. “Take good care of these and don’t break them because they cannot be replaced en route,” they explained.

I immediately concluded that the road to the execution site would be a long one. Otherwise, why should they be so solicitous?

For breakfast, there were preserved vegetables, eggs and congee. Our appetites were aroused by this Chinese food, our first in a long while, and, in a very short time, the whole pail of congee was consumed. The soldiers then let us have another pail which they themselves had been eating. This puzzled me, since I knew that there were no cooking facilities on the train and that they would have to wait for the next stop until they could get more to eat for themselves.

After breakfast, quite a few of the prisoners in the car began to talk about this incident. They concluded that since the soldiers had let us have their breakfast they were well trained and disciplined and would not maltreat us during the journey.

But I did not share their opinion. I thought just the opposite. I felt that the Communist Party people hated me the most. It was impossible for me to believe that they would not do something to me before the coming night was over.

Although many of the other prisoners began to nap after breakfast, I was unable to put myself at ease. I desperately wanted to find out from those who held me prisoner whether I would meet death or not. A very young soldier sat opposite me and, after looking him over, I chose the emblem on his chest as a device with which to start a conversation.

“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army,” I said, pointing to the emblem. “You are a soldier of the Liberation Army. You know,” I continued, “that the word ‘liberation’ is really excellent. I am one who believes in Buddhism and even we, in our Buddhist classics, have that same word, ‘liberation.’ Buddha was devoted to benevolence to the extent that he sought to ‘liberate’ all living creatures.”

The young soldier did not utter a sound, and when I reached the point in my discussion where I explained that I had never killed a living thing, that I had never even swatted a fly, the expression on his face became so blank and his eyes so wide with confusion that I found I could not continue.

Thus, my despair became even greater, and even the clicking noise of the car wheels on the tracks made me feel that death was coming closer and closer. I left my seat and aimlessly walked down the corridor until I reached the other end of the car and then began to walk back again. In the middle, I thought I heard my nephew, Little Hsiu, say the words “democracy” and “monarchy” to someone in a low voice.

Suddenly I began to shout. “How can you talk about monarchy at such a time as this,” I screamed. “If there is anyone in this car who still believes in monarchy I will be happy to fight a duel with him!”

Everyone was both astonished and stupefied, but my hysterics continued. “Why should you people stare at me? I am the one who will be shot; you others don’t need to worry.”

A soldier came up and dragged me back to my seat. “You should take a good rest,” he said.

But apparently I had become completely bewildered, for I held on to the soldier and whispered, “That was my nephew. His thoughts are very bad; he opposes democracy just like someone else aboard this train, a former Manchukuo army officer who, while we were in Soviet Russia, said all sorts of things against democracy.”

The soldier forced me down into the seat and although I closed my eyes, my lips continued to move in ranting phrases. But finally, perhaps because I had not slept in several nights, I fell into a deep sleep.

When I awoke it was already morning of the following day and the train had reduced its speed. After it came to a stop, I thought I heard someone in a low voice say “Changchun.” I jumped up like a coiled spring that has suddenly been released and tried to peer through the window, but, of course, I could see nothing. All I heard were people outside, singing. This, I thought, is my place of execution. Here I was once Emperor. Now everyone is preparing to give me a public trial.

When I was in Soviet Russia, I had read in the newspaper Trud about the campaign against landlords, and the procedure for public trials raced through my mind. First, the militia would escort me to the public trial grounds. Just at this point in my thoughts it so happened that two soldiers entered the car together and almost overwhelmed me with fright, but as it turned out, they had come with a bucket of congee for breakfast and soon the train started to move again.

A short while after we reached Mukden a stranger came into the car with a note in his hands. “Since this has been such a hot journey,” he explained, “the older people will follow me to take a rest.” He then read off a list of names from the paper he still held in his hand. One of my nephews and I were both on the list, and although I was forty-four years old and could thus fit into the category of older people, it was clearly improper to include on such a list the name of my nephew, Little Hsiu, who was about thirty. I decided, therefore, that it was a trick. I was the Emperor, the rest were former high officials, and my nephew had been included because he had been denounced by me. We would soon be shot as a group, in Mukden, where my ancestors had founded the Ch’ing Dynasty.

Those of us whose names had been called were put into a big sedan and the soldiers, who followed in another car, all held rifles with bayonets at the ready.

“Everything is finished! I am taking you to see our ancestors,” I said to my nephew. His face became deathly white, even though the man who had read the list laughed and asked, “What are you afraid of? Didn’t I tell you this is to take you for a rest?”

I paid no attention to him. I merely kept muttering, under my breath, “A trick, a trick, a trick.”

Upon our arrival at a large building, a soldier came up to the car and guided us through the gate. “Go upstairs,” he said.

I was sure I would die and decided that I might as well get it over with quickly. Thus, with my coat under my arm, I walked faster and faster up the stairs so that the soldier who was leading us was forced to increase his pace in order to keep up with me. Once upstairs, we stopped at a door and the soldier told me to enter. The room was large and in its center was a long table with chairs on both sides and on it were cigarettes, fruit, and pastry. I threw down my coat, picked up a big apple, and took a bite. “This is my last supper,” I said to myself. “I might as well finish it in a hurry.”

Before I had half finished the apple, other people in both civilian clothes and military uniforms began to enter the room and it was soon crowded. Not far from me, a middle-aged man in uniform began to talk. But since I was trying hard to swallow what was left of the apple, I couldn’t hear a thing he said. With difficulty I finally finished the apple, and I then stood up.

“You don’t need to talk,” I said. “Let’s go.”

Several of the people started laughing. The one who had been speaking also laughed. “You are too tense,” he said. “You don’t need to be afraid. Later when you arrive at Fushun, take a good rest and start studying diligently and faithfully.”

I was utterly astonished at his words. Was this true? Were they not going to execute me? What was it all about?

Just at this moment the man who had brought us from the train approached me. In his hand he still held the list of names and explained to the man who had been talking to me that all of us who needed a rest were present and accounted for except for one who was ill.

Upon hearing this, I completely disregarded all formality and grabbed the list from his hands. Even though my conduct made everyone laugh, I didn’t care, for I was still sure that the list contained the names of those who were sentenced to death.

At this point, however, another prisoner arrived. He had been among those who had been sent back to China before us and he told us what had happened to his group and their families. When we learned that they were all still alive and that their families were either in school or at work, our faces lit up. Tears came to my eyes and I began to weep.

Although this relief from tension did not last long, only for about an hour, the time it took to travel from Mukden to Fushun, it still allowed me to relax for a bit. Otherwise, I should have gone insane, because from the time I had boarded the train in Russia five days previously, I had thought only of death.

When we returned, we found the atmosphere on the train completely changed. Everyone was smoking cigarettes and chatting gaily. Some thought that we would be sent to the most exclusive and lavish club in Fushun where we would be held for a few days of study, after which the Communists would send us home. Others told of how, after our arrival, they would send telegrams to their families saying that they were well and asking their relations to get ready to welcome them. Others spoke of taking a bath once we got to the club. Illusions of all kinds and colors prevailed.

When the others spoke of their former fears, it turned out that they had all felt as I had. We could not help laughing about it. But as soon as we left the train at Fushun, we noticed that we were surrounded by sentries in uniform and we could no longer laugh and smile.

We were escorted to some trucks and from this time on I again became sick with fear. I lost all sense of time and only knew that when the truck stopped I would find myself surrounded by walls. They would not only be high, but there would also be barbed wire on top and sentry towers at the comers.

After I got down from the truck, we walked some distance until we came to a row of one-story buildings. There were iron bars at all the windows. I began to understand—it was a prison. My fears had been correct.

The soldiers led us inside through a long, narrow passageway until we came into a large room. Here we were searched and later we were taken outside in groups. Several others and I followed a soldier down a passageway into a small room. Before I had a chance to see exactly what sort of room it was, I heard a noise behind me. It was the bolting of an iron door.

There was a long wooden kang in the cell and also a long table with two benches. The few who had come in with me were all former army officers of the Manchukuo government. I did not know them well and did not wish to talk with them.

A few hours later, the cell door was pulled open and a guard entered. He asked me to follow him to another cell. Here, to my intense joy, I found my three nephews, my brother Pu Chieh, and my father-in-law, Jung Yuan. They had just received new blankets, new mattresses, washbasins, and other necessities, and had taken one of each for me.

“This is a military prison,” my father-in-law explained, as he touched the iron bars. “Everyone here is in uniform. I do not think we are in immediate danger. Otherwise, why should they have issued us toothbrushes and towels? Also, when we arrived, a receptionist gave us each a receipt for the personal possessions they took from us. This is not the treatment accorded ordinary prisoners. Furthermore, the food is not so bad.”

By the following day I began to believe that what my father-in-law had said was true. Not only were the meals about the same as the day before, but we were also given a thorough physical examination, and were issued new white underwear and black jackets and, surprisingly enough, cigarettes. This was clearly not the treatment for prisoners awaiting death. A few days later, a somewhat stout man of about forty came to our cell and asked our names and what kind of books we had read in the Soviet Union and whether or not we had studied hard while there. Upon hearing our replies, he nodded his head. “Well,” he said, “I’ll issue you some books and newspapers right away and you people can learn some new ideas.”

A few hours later books, newspapers, chessboards and playing cards were brought in. At the same time loudspeakers, in the passageway outside the cell, were connected. Broadcasts were transmitted twice a day; one was news and the other consisted of operatic and theatrical music.

Besides listening to these, we were allowed to walk in the courtyard for a half hour each afternoon. Meanwhile, my nephew, Little Hsiu, had found out that the man who had told us to study hard was the Director of the War Prisoner Thought Control Center in which we were held and the man who had actually brought the books, who was named Li, was the Deputy Director. At the time we had addressed him as “Mister” since we didn’t know what we were supposed to call him. We also addressed all the guards as “Mister” too.

Li had brought us three books: The New Democracy, The History of China’s Last 100 Years and The Revolutionary History of the New People’s Democracy. He had told us that since he did not have enough books to go around, we should rotate them, or, better still, one of us should read aloud to the others. He explained that there were many new terms in these books.

Although there was much that was strange and novel in the books, actually the most novel thing of all was that they made us, as prisoners, study. One of my nephews was the first to become interested in the books. He read much faster than the rest of us and would often ask us to explain things to him. If we could not answer him, he would go to the Center Director and ask. My father-in-law castigated him for this.

“Don’t think for a minute that this is a school,” he explained. “It is a prison.”

“But didn’t the Director tell us we should start to learn?” my nephew asked.

“To learn . . . yes. To learn that this is a prison,” my father-in-law answered. “Yesterday,” he continued, “when we went outside for exercise, I heard someone say that this was formerly a prison under the Manchukuo regime. It formerly was and it still is, even with books and magazines.”

One day, not long after this, when we came back from our stroll in the courtyard, Pu Chieh hurriedly began to scan the newspapers. With some excitement, he said that he had overheard a discussion outside about an article in the paper that had explained the reason why the government was asking us all to study. We immediately circled around him in order to help him find it. Although I have forgotten the title, I do recall that it made the point that the new China was in need of all kinds of talent.

All of us, except my father-in-law, read the article and Pu Chieh explained that this was exactly what he had overheard; namely, that the reason the government let us study and had treated us so leniently was because the country was experiencing a shortage of talent and that it wished to be able to make use of all of us.

When I recall this incident today, his opinion seems laughable. Yet, at the time, it was actually the way the majority of us felt. In our cell, despite my father-in-law’s doubts, the others seemed to go along with this line of reasoning and from this day on a great change was evident, inasmuch as all of us became devoted students. Prior to this time, with the exception of my one nephew, the rest of us had shown an interest in the propaganda pamphlets and daily study period purely as a means of demonstrating to the guards in the passageway outside the cell door what model prisoners we were.

We did not have a member of the Communist Party cadre from the prison’s central office with us. Our study was thus limited to memorizing the terminology and learning its meaning. My father-in-law, of course, wasn’t interested and when the rest of us studied, he would close his eyes and repeat Buddhist incantations. But this blind optimism on our part did not last very long. Like a flower that blooms for just a few hours, it soon faded away, for shortly afterward the prison announced a readjustment of cell arrangements and separated me from my family.

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