Paper Republic – Chinese Literature in Translation
Shan Zhihe spent a month in the village before returning to his studies in Beijing, leaving his new bride behind. Apart from taking part in the lineage observances for the Qingming festival, it was the time of the 3rd moon festival for the goddess Houtu , when many villagers went on pilgrimage to the Houshan mountains. Even in a society in which gender equality was still not remotely on the agenda—we saw the dreadful isolation of Woman Zhang —Shan Zhihe and his wife were to make a particularly incongruous couple, as he recalled dispassionately for us in She used to nag him to take her to watch the local opera; one day he had to give in, but as he says they must have made quite a spectacle themselves, with him reluctantly trying to adjust his manly stride as she hobbled along trying to keep up.
They never went out together again, and she never forgave him. My older brother married a couple of years before me, in , but then went away to study in Baoding; in he got into the 29th Army, stationed in Hebei, and after going south with the army he stayed there. It was all just to get away from the wife! She stayed behind in Gaoluo the whole time—she was only able to remarry after they got a postal divorce in Incidentally, in there were still about forty or fifty women in the village with bound feet ; of those above 70, only one had natural feet.
With the whole Beijing area in chaos, Shan Zhihe eventually made his way back to Gaoluo on foot, by a long route avoiding the area of the Marco Polo Bridge, arriving back home late in July But what was he supposed to do now?
The very fact of his education also made his situation precarious, for rival factions would seek to exploit his knowledge, and it would be difficult to choose his own path. A month or so after his return to Gaoluo, it was clear that the Japanese advance along the main transport routes south could not be contained. Zhizhong stopped off in Gaoluo for three days. After he resumed his journey, the brothers were not to meet again until after Liberation, over ten years later. Zhizhong later went off to work in Hubei province far to the south.
Their father Shan Futian was still in distant Hohhot. It was only when they heard the sound of heavy artillery that they decided they must go. But before they had even reached Baoding, they heard that the Japanese had already advanced as far as Shijiazhuang, still further south. Flight was impossible—they had no choice but to return to Gaoluo. Japanese warplanes bombed Laishui county-town at 8am on 17th September the 13th of the 8th moon , and that same day Japanese troops first entered Gaoluo.
Coming from the direction of Wucun to the south, they were just passing through; they had about fifty tanks, and were covered by aircraft. The troops entered the village before Woman Zhang could take her children to the church to hide; they passed by her house. In order to dissuade them from murdering them all and setting fire to the village, the village leaders went out to welcome them. Before the Japanese even entered the village, they shot dead a villager who rashly stuck his neck out to look, but after entering Gaoluo they harmed no-one, just asking for fresh water, eggs, and meat.
Though they soon went on their way after a token search, Japanese cavalry and infantry passed through constantly for several days on their way to Baoding, and Gaoluo villagers had to look after them. Before the Japanese arrived they had prepared maps which they used when they first entered the village—they made me point out the way to Baoding. In the first party of Japanese troops were some savages [Ainu?
When they entered the village they caught some chickens and tore them to bits, eating them raw. I frantically tried to explain by gestures that I ran a baths, and they let me off. The lawless conditions of the early s had prompted many villagers to arm themselves. Villagers with guns were invited to join the new militia or at least to give their guns to the resistance effort.
Within a couple of days some two hundred volunteers had assembled, including Catholics like Cai Chen and Cai Xing. The house of North Gaoluo landlord Yan Shide served as command-post.
But educated Shan Zhihe soon found with dismay that most of the recruits were just village good-for-nothings. While a student in Beijing, he had taken part in patriotic demonstrations boycotting Japanese goods. Now finding himself back in his home village, taking his gun along and soon becoming one of the leaders of this motley crew, he was full of misgivings. Untrained, they were a menace to people outside their own village. Shan Zhihe had a cousin called Wang Futong, whose family was quite well-off, owning over mu of land.
Wang was notorious as a wastrel who kept bad company. When an enemy of his spread a rumour that he was a militia leader, the Japanese came looking for him.
Shan Zhihe had gone to Dingxing county-town that day to buy shoes for the militia, and by the time he got back the Japanese had gone, having failed to find Wang. But that was the end of the Gaoluo militia: some hid their guns or threw them down the wells, some went into hiding, while others joined militia groups in other villages, calling themselves anti-Japanese but actually plundering ordinary Chinese houses. Cultured Shan Zhihe obviously had no future in such a militia. He handed in his gun and took no further part. Events now forced him to flee Gaoluo. Before long his profligate cousin Wang Futong was murdered by a drinking-buddy called Huo Zhongyi, leader of the militia in Xiazhuang just east of the river.
The 10th moon of had still not arrived—an eventful start to his married life.
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In occupied Hohhot Shan Zhihe had already begun telling us his story in Gaoluo in We were back in Beijing for a few days between visits when we learned that he too had come there to stay with a family who needed his medical help. Back in the frenzy of ring-roads and fancy hotels, we missed Gaoluo already; glad of the opportunity to seek his guidance again, we asked him to continue his story for us.
Hohhot, Shan Zhihe left for Hohhot in the 9th moon of , where his father was still running a public baths. But the war had made business enterprises highly subject to intimidation, as Shan Zhihe soon found out when he started working at the baths. Early in posters advertising for examinations for the police force seemed to offer him a better alternative.
Shan Zhihe was a tall and well-educated young man; he passed the exam with no trouble. By the time he realized he had been conned, it was already too late, and Shan Zhihe was now subordinate to a Japanese police chief. Shan Zhihe was first sent to work at the police station in Great South Street, the most affluent quarter of Hohhot; then after a month he was promoted to personnel management in the police department in the old town.
Over the following years he gained promotion through the ranks of the Mongolian and Japanese armies. In the 9th moon of Shan Zhihe at last got permission to return to Gaoluo for a visit. But he soon learnt that fate had done the job for him. Huo had gone over to the Japanese, and then, resentful of their cruelty, had resolved to rebel against them; but they had found out and executed him.
Shan Zhihe spent only one night at home before setting off back towards Hohhot. This was granted, but after he returned to Hohhot he spent most of the next three years virtually unemployed, earning a bit from renting out rooms. The Nationalists had heard that I was educated and had military training, and they offered me an official post in their army, but I refused.
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Still, I was only 26, in the prime of life. Frustrated, I could see no options for myself, and in I ended up as a medical orderly in a hospital at Hohhot. The hospital was of regimental rank, and orderlies were between 1st and 2nd lieutenants in rank. Shan Zhihe worked as an orderly for the Nationalists in Hohhot through the civil war, witnessing different traumas from those taking place in Gaoluo.
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In he took some relatives to Beijing; a photo of him in military uniform shows his impressive stature. But eventually, as private enterprise under the Communists became untenable, the whole family had to return to Gaoluo. Shan Zhihe came back in with his wife, his daughter, and younger son Shan Ling—the first-born Shan Ming stayed behind with his grandparents, but he too came back with his grandmother in the 3rd moon of The aged Shan Futian was last to return, in the following winter.
By this time he was seriously ill. The family had owned over 90 mu of good land before Liberation. Since they were absentee landlords, they had let villagers cultivate it; the villagers were liable to pay grain tax on it. Still, the family had been away from the village for the whole preceding period, and Shan Zhihe felt unhappy about his class label. Even in absentia he had been a longstanding benefactor of the ritual association, and his family used to give the association a banquet at New Year.
Naturally the association played and performed the vocal liturgy for his funeral; Shan Laole played the drum, Chen Jianhe the guanzi.
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