“A NEW YEAR HAS BEGUN. WHAT ARE YOUR RESOLUTIONS?” the Center Director asked me on New Year’s Day, 1955.
I told him that I could only prepare myself for my punishment.
“Why be so pessimistic?” he asked as he shook his head. “You should take a more positive attitude toward your remolding and try to be a new man!”
I had heard these same words the previous month when I had put my signature on the last confession documents the investigators had presented to me. Although they had made me feel a bit more comfortable, they had not basically changed my pessimistic and passive attitude. I had fallen deep into a pit of self-pity.
In March a group of Liberation Army generals came to Fushun to inspect our Thought Control Center, which was under the Mukden Military District. The Director asked me and Pu Chieh to come and see them. When I first entered the room which was full of shiny gold epaulettes I thought it was a military tribunal; but later, I realized that the generals wanted to know about my studies and my remolding. Their attitude was friendly and they seemed very interested in what I had to say and asked me about my life as a child and also during my Manchukuo days. Later, a bearded general said, “Study well and remold. In the future you will be able to see for yourself the socialistic reconstruction of China.” On the way back to my cell, I decided that this man must have been a marshal, and Pu Chieh told me that he probably was not the only marshal among them.
Back in my cell, I related the marshal’s remarks to my cellmates and Yuan, the former Manchukuo Ambassador to Japan, said, “Congratulations, Pu! Since the marshal said you will be able to see socialist reconstruction, this means you’re safe!”
The others all became very excited over this since they decided that if the “number one” prisoner would be safe, they too would certainly be all right.
After the end of the period of accusations and acknowledgement of guilt, the ban on talking during the recreation period in the courtyard had been lifted, and also, our cell doors were no longer locked during the day. This good news was soon spread through the prison. At this time I thought of my nephews and Big Li who had been ignoring me since the period of accusations of guilt. I felt sure that this news would also make them very happy, and I used it as an excuse to look for them and tell them about it. I heard Little Ku’s voice singing a new song and followed the sound until I found him with Little Hsiu standing beside a large tree in the corner of the yard. But before I got there they went away.
In April, the Center had us elect a Study Committee as the Japanese prisoners had done. This Committee, which was under the supervision of the Center authorities, enabled us to organize our own studies and daily life. It was responsible for reporting to the Center staff all problems that arose and for reporting on discussions and self-criticism meetings. It could also forward ideas on its own initiative. The Committee had five members who were chosen by election but had to be approved by the Center authorities; there was a chairman and four other members responsible respectively for study, daily life, sport and recreation. The study chief and the daily life chief in each cell had to report to the responsible committeeman every day.
Soon after its creation, the Committee decided that we should build a sports ground. Little Jui, who was the committeeman in charge of daily life, was in charge of this work. When I showed up for work the first time he scolded me in front of everyone. As I ran to my place in the line, I was buttoning my jacket. All of a sudden, I heard my name shouted.
“Coming, coming,” I replied, running to the end of the line.
“Each time we assemble, you are always late. You keep all of us waiting just for you. You aren’t even conscious of it,” Little Jui shouted with a grim expression on his face. “Just look at yourself, you’re a complete mess. You can’t even button yourself properly.”
As I looked down, I noticed that all my buttons were in the wrong holes. Everyone turned to look at me as I fumbled and fumbled, still unable to button my jacket properly.
One day my glasses broke again. After some hesitation, I asked for Big Li’s help once more. “Please help me,” I asked humbly in a low voice. “I’ve tried to do them myself several times, but I just can’t. Nobody else can do it. I beg you to mend them for me.”
“You still want me to serve you,” he said, staring at me. “Haven’t I waited on you long enough? Haven’t I served you sufficiently?” When he finished speaking, he turned his back on me and walked off in the opposite direction. I stood helplessly, wishing that I could dash my head against the wall. But in a few minutes, Big Li came back and took the glasses from me.
“Very well,” he said angrily. “I’ll mend them for you. But let me tell you this; I’m only doing this to make it possible for you to reform. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have the time.”
Later, during the rest period, I went to the newly established library to relax by myself and I ran into Pu Chieh. I started talking about myself and told him that I was so disturbed by the attitude of my family members that I was unable to sleep at night. “Why don’t you talk it over with the Center staff?” he suggested. “From what I hear, they have urged the prisoners to forget old grudges and help you.”
One Sunday I was washing clothes as usual. When I finished it was about time for sports but since I wasn’t in the mood, I went to the reading room by myself. As soon as I sat down, I heard people talking outside the window.
“Can you play tennis?”
“I don’t know how to play. Ask Pu Yi, he knows how.”
“He knows how, but he doesn’t want to play. Anyway, goodness knows when he’ll finish washing his clothes!”
“He’s become much quicker at it lately.”
“I don’t believe you!”
This conversation infuriated me. I had finished my laundry and I’d washed just as many clothes as anyone else. Why couldn’t they believe in me? It was as if by nature I was incapable of improvement. Thus I fetched my tennis racket and went out into the yard, not so much because I wanted to play, but because I wanted to show the others that I had finished my washing.
When I reached the tennis court, the people whom I had overheard were gone. There was someone else there and so I played with him. Lots of spectators gathered to watch, and I played happily and worked up a good sweat.
After I finished I washed my hands at the tap, and then ran into the Center Director who often spent Sundays at the Center.
“Pu Yi, you’ve made real progress today,” he commented.
“Oh, I haven’t played for a long time,” I answered contentedly.
“I wasn’t talking about your tennis,” he said as he pointed toward my clothes drying on the line. “Since you can now do your washing as quickly as the others, you can enjoy the same amount of leisure and recreation as they do. Recreation is life’s happiness.”
I immediately nodded my head to indicate agreement and then accompanied him on his stroll around the yard.
“In the past, when others enjoyed their rest and recreation, you were still busy doing your work,” he continued. “Thus you were not equal with the others and felt resentful. But now, you know how to wash clothes, and you have a status of equality and are thus much happier. As you can see, you yourself hold the key to the problem and you don’t have to worry how others treat you.”
A few days later, when our group returned to our cell after having removed the garbage, our committee member in charge of daily life held a self-criticism session. “Someone left the water running after washing his hands,” he said. “This was irresponsible and I hope it won’t happen again.”
As soon as Big Li heard this, he immediately turned toward me. “Pu Yi,” he said, “weren’t you the last to wash your hands?”
“Perhaps I forgot to turn off the faucet,” I answered after a moment.
“Is there ever a time when you don’t forget?”
“Yes, of course there are times I don’t forget.”
“The trouble with you is,” Big Li continued, “you are not even ashamed. You still have the habits of an emperor. In the past, you never turned off faucets yourself; as a matter of fact you never even touched a doorknob. There were always others to open and close doors for you. Now, when you leave a room, you only open a door, but you never close one. You still cannot lay aside the pomp of emperorship.”
“Now I come to think of it,” Old Yuan interjected, “I notice that sometimes you often cover the door handle with a piece of newspaper. Why do you do that?”
“It’s because you’re afraid it’s dirty, isn’t it?” Big Li commented.
“Everyone touches a doorknob, so of course it’s dirty,” I said.
This remark produced an avalanche of attacks by my cellmates. “Why are you the only one to mind the dirt?” “Is it because you think you are above other people?” “Is it a dirty door you’re worried about, or dirty people?” “In your heart you really look down on others, don’t you?” And so on.
I did my best to protest that I entertained no such feelings, but basically I couldn’t help but feel depressed. Did I really do this? Later, someone mentioned that whenever we went to take a bath, I was always the first to jump into the communal tub and always got out the moment anyone else got in. Someone else recalled that at the New Year parties in the Soviet Union, I had always been the first to help myself to a bowl of dumplings. After hearing all this, I had to admit to myself that Big Li’s analysis was right and that I had not been able to cast off my emperor’s airs.
Once, when we were washing, Big Li came up and reminded us not to splash water on the floor while we were brushing our teeth. He told us that if we did so, we should mop it up with a cloth because there was going to be a hygiene contest that day and failure to do so would mean that we would lose points. As I looked down at my feet, I noticed that I had spilled some tooth powder and water on the floor.
Big Li also noticed it and asked me to mop it up. Without thinking, I wiped it with the sole of my cloth shoe. He laid into me for this, accusing me of only thinking of myself. “The trouble with you is you can only think about your privileges, never about your duties.” He was just at the point of taking a mop and doing it himself, when he changed his mind and told me to do it. I obediently carried out his orders.
Big Li brought in some new fly swatters one day and handed one to me. This was the first time I had ever handled a fly swatter and I felt awkward. I had never before killed a fly. Actually there were very few in the Center. I finally found one by an open window and waved my swatter to drive it out.
“What do you think you’re doing,” Big Li shouted from behind me. “Are you killing flies or saving lives?”
At the self-criticism meeting that night, no one mentioned the affair until Big Li told how I had forbidden the killing of flies in Changchun and had even organized a group of people to save a mouse from the mouth of a cat. Then, everyone had a good laugh and criticized me for my superstition. “Why should you call me superstitious?” I answered. “Didn’t I kill flies last year?”
At this, Old Yuan couldn’t help but burst into laughter. “Thanks for reminding me,” he said. “If you hadn’t mentioned it, I would have forgotten. You asked others to use the fly swatters while you used a newspaper to chase them away.”
In the midst of the laughter, only Big Li kept a straight face. “I don’t know what it means when other people save lives,” he sneered, “but in your case I understand completely. It’s pure selfishness so that you can get the blessing of Buddha. Others may all die so long as Buddha protects you. You think you are the most precious thing on earth.”
“You’re exaggerating,” I protested.
“Pu Yi does sometimes seem humble,” Old Yuan put in.
“Yes,” I added. “That’s true. I do not regard myself as superior to anyone else.”
“Perhaps sometimes you do humble yourself,” Big Li admitted. “But at other times you still think of yourself as higher and superior to others. I’ve no idea how you got this way.”