Why it is payback time for China against its early colonialists.
THE CIRCLE OF RAGE
The Shanghai of January 1952 was a harsh environment for foreign nationals. I was eighteen, the age of extremes; I saw my interrogation by the Chinese Communist police as a test of my fledgling integrity. I would not lie; would not tell on my friends. If I was to be shot, then I would be a martyr, a privilege that Catholics regarded as the ultimate act of faith. Father McGrath may have been dismayed had he realized the impact his little anecdotes had made. To be like Saint (I can no longer remember the name) who, prone on the grill, told his tormenters calmly, "You had better turn me over. I am quite well done on this side already." Exaltation! Saint Lucille! Father McGrath might live to attend my canonization in Rome.
Had I been less ignorant of the bloody history of Marxism, I still may not have changed my attitude. Forty years later, I am uncertain of that. Knowledge, supplemented by imagination, produces cowards. The prospect of torture was an abstract; the methods that might be used even more so, held at bay in my mind by a sort of subdued bravado.
My older sister, Maria, and I had gone to the police station to request exit visas for our parents and ourselves. Instead of giving us the application forms a guard led us to a small room and told us to wait. We waited nearly two hours. Finally a man in a dull gray uniform with no marks of rank came in and began to question us.
From the way he proceeded, our political stance appeared to be a given; not Did you, but When did you.
How long have you been spying for the United States Government?
Who are your collaborators? Write down their names.
Our spy headquarters, we discovered gradually, was to be our parish church, St. Columban's of Ireland, in the old French Concession of Shanghai. We were asked if certain Chinese parishioners had been holding private meetings in the back rooms.
Throughout the day, at intervals, the interrogator left us alone in the room for up to two hours, then he would return to resume his questioning, then again we were alone for about two hours. Whenever the man withdrew, Maria and I looked at each other without speaking, and that look was more eloquent than anything we could have said.
The questioning never deviated from our pre-established guilt.
Did you visit people to recruit them for your spy ring?
We visited them because they were ill.
What are their names?
We don't remember.
Did the priests channel intelligence to the United States for you?
There was no intelligence. We weren't gathering intelligence.
Toward evening the interrogator, an emotionless Northern Chinese who sometimes spoke Russian on the telephone, handed us printed forms with blank answer boxes and demanded our signatures.
We asked, What does this form say? We only speak Chinese; we can't read it.
It is your confession. If you sign it now the People's Government may give you a lenient sentence.
We thought it wiser not to ask what the alternative might be. Maria pleaded that everything had been a surprise to us. Could we think it over?
We could. But from now on we would be questioned separately. Each was to report at eight in the morning, and we were to go to separate rooms.
When Maria and I got home we learned that our Chinese mother and Italian father had been watching at the window most of the day. For all our parents knew, our twelve-hour disappearance might well be permanent. After he heard our story, my father became incensed. The Chinese government had no right to detain Italian citizens. He would lodge a protest.
My mother was a realist. The communist regime had been doing exactly as it pleased since taking control of Shanghai three years before. We had best walk and speak softly.
Both forbade me to telephone St. Columban's, so I ran from them to the church and informed the fathers that they might be in trouble.
As it turned out, St. Columban's was not harmed, but several of its Chinese parishioners were picked up on the street. We heard of their torture and execution. Secret police invaded some homes; the newspapers ran stories about radio transmitters and subversive literature being found on these raids.
The word subversive was to be used constantly during my sessions at the police station. On the second round, a Chinese interpreter accompanied Maria and me to the station house. I think he found me, his client, to be as dangerous to his well-being as the interrogator. I gave him names and addresses. He filled in the answer boxes on the printed confession form. After the fifth address, he said, "But these are all in Hong Kong or Italy." More than that, I told him. The names are made up. Some of these people are dead.
He excused himself to go to the bathroom. He did not come back.
I was on my own. Though Maria never signed the confession, she was dismissed on the second day. The People's Party did not bother to gather any further samplings from our community of foreign nationals. Perhaps they kept me because I was young and hence, they thought, docile. Perhaps I irritated my interrogator.
At the end of my sixth week, my photograph appeared in the newspapers above this caption: CONFESSED SPY BEGS FORGIVENESS FROM THE PEOPLE'S REVOLUTION. It made not a whit of difference whether I had signed or not. I suppose I retained my private integrity. Most certainly, I finally understood that the game I had been playing was a large and serious one.
I did not have to be executed after all; nevertheless the foreign nationals in Shanghai felt the precariousness of their situation. The technique of elimination was simple: Step One: label someone a spy; Step Two: seize assets; Step Three: exile. In the three years we lived under communist rule, the hate campaign against foreigners had become explosive. As a Eurasian I was a particular target in the streets. Stones and curses flew at me; my parents were reviled for cohabiting and thus tarnishing the Chinese race.
And so we left China to shape her new history. From a great distance in Italy, then the United States, then Brazil, and again the United States, I wished her well. My rancor had faded, because over the years the blank page of my youth had become densely inscribed. I had learned something of China's history. I knew by then that China had suffered much insult in the past two centuries--a mere wink in time in 3,300 years of a distinct Chinese civilization.
The final one hundred fifty years are what concerns us.
On every anniversary of the June uprising in Tienanman Square, the media in the United States have paid somber tribute to the young revolutionaries killed. Amidst watching, at the height of the revolt, those valiant acts of defiance played over and over on television, I remember reading of a Chinese student in the United States who was quoted as crying out in anguish, "How could Chinese kill Chinese? That cannot be."
There, I thought, was another blank page.
Apparently the youngster knew nothing of the 19th century Taiping Rebellion against the Manchu ruling class. During the Taiping, Nien, Chinese Muslim, and lesser rebellions between 1850-1873, Chinese killed 60 million Chinese.
Westerners killed Chinese. They did not kill to overthrow an unfair hegemony; they killed for material gain. When the Chinese revolted against the British opium trade in 1839, the British attacked China. They seized Amoy, Tinghai, Ningpo, Woosung, Shanghai, and Chingkiang. They forced the Chinese to pay a huge indemnity and to cede Hong Kong to them. After their victory the British blanketed China with opium shipped from India. A Scottish captain running opium to China made this entry in his journal: "Employed delivering briskly. No time to read my Bible." The first American opium clipper was the Anglona. Chinese addiction to the drug, aided by Chinese dealers and opium houses, became pandemic.
Americans, Russians, Japanese, French, Austrians and Italians did their share with a will. In the summer of 1900, fighting to expel the foreigners, the Boxers surrounded the Peking legations. Their weapons were quaint, nothing more. Foreigners grabbed more pieces of Chinese territory.
The Japanese military killed thousands of Chinese in 1932, and thousands more in 1937. The war for gain of land was centered in Chapei, north of the International Settlement of Shanghai. Japanese aircraft, destroyers, and artillery shelled the Chinese army resistence to bits; the Japanese occupied China until the end of World War II. I was almost old enough to remember fleeing our country home while the shells flew overhead and eventually demolished it. I do remember the years afterward, when Chinese were forced to kowtow to Japanese sentries (who beat and slapped around anyone who did not bow low enough) until the end of the war also brought the end of the Japanese military occupation of China.
Before, during and after all those dates, Chinese killed Chinese, and Chinese killed foreigners during their revolts. Missionaries caught in the middle of these conflicts died in the hundreds. From the mid-1850's until the early 1920's, Chinese warlords, like true Chinese rulers, knew a thing or two about the usefulness of torture. Some of them originally army officers, these petty rulers made a wonderful living. Dissenters were put to death without a moment's quibble. The people learned to be obedient and to hand over their taxes and goods without complaint. They had a protector of sorts, the strong man of the moment. It was a way of life the Chinese came to understand, if not always like. Several warlords achieved power through the backing of foreign powers, most notably Japan but also Britain and the Soviet Union.
The foreigners encroached steadily upon a China they saw as one huge, faceless marketplace for their goods. The fabled taipans held power, wealth, virtual political autonomy in the Shanghai of their creation, the International Settlement. Some built themselves mansions with Grecian columns and pseudo-English houses complete with rose gardens. While refusing representation on the Council, the Municipal Council--composed of foreigners--taxed the Chinese three times as much as themselves.
For nearly a hundred years, until World War II, life was good for every foreigner who came to China to make his fortune.
Yet the Chinese and the taipan, which means big boss, remained as alien to each other as in the beginning. The Chinese person closest to the taipan was the Number One Boy, chop-chop. Next was the comprador.
Except as menials, the Chinese were seldom admitted to the taipan's home. A class of Chinese called compradores (a Portuguese word meaning buyers) grew to power as the main, the only, liaison between the taipans and their Chinese consumers. Money was made to mutual satisfaction; the Chinese economy had grown to depend on foreign trade. My father had a thriving import-export business himself.
Was my father a taipan? No. His business was modest in comparison to that of the taipans.
How did he come to marry a Chinese? He was Italian; Italians did not view Chinese with prejudice. That was a specialty of the taipans. The British held out to the very last. They had, after all, an Empire to maintain in Asia, South Africa, and the West Indies. When a British man lost his reason and acquired a Chinese mistress, he was expected to keep her out of sight. Any issue from that union was set apart from his real life.
Between wars and revolutions I grew to be eighteen in Shanghai. I did not then truly know the drama of China, the enormous scope and breadth of her adversities; that remained a blank page in my education except for some very personal incidents in my life.
By the l930's the Chinese and foreigners had achieved a mutual accommodation.
But it was already too late for forgiveness of past insults: the Opium War and the subsequent land-grab, more concessions after the Boxer Rebellion, the slaughter by the Japanese, the signs outside the Race Course and Municipal Parks in the International Settlement: "No dogs or Chinese."
In that order, my mother always said in a kind of worn astonishment. Even the dogs came before the Chinese.
The catalyst of China's most convulsive revolution in its 3,300 years of recorded civilization, the change that would throw world leaders into confusion for four decades, was its own government. The corruption of the Kuomintang government of Chiang Kai-shek has since become the key element in numberless expert analyses of "How (sometimes it is "Why") We Lost China." In the streets of Shanghai, that knowledge was in every ordinary man's possession. In 1946, of the huge UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) shipments of food, clothing, and medicines piled on the Bund, my father said, "Watch it all disappear." And it did, into the pockets, so to speak, of the officials of the Kuomintang. When UNRRA turned over its operations to CNRRA, Madame Chiang Kai-shek's relatives became multimillionaires. The new China National Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was all theirs, funded exclusively by the United States of America.
Who were these relatives? The two most eminent were Madame Chiang's brother, T. V. Soong, and their brother-in-law, H. H. Kung, the Minister of Finance. The family started a separate entity called the China Redevelopment Corporation, which in its turn created thousands of minor entities, and in this way aid to China was efficiently diverted into pockets already heavy with bribes and commissions.
American manufacturers got into the act. For a generous donation to CNRRA, one famous company won an exclusive import license for its product, a refrigerator that is still marketed under the same name today. Automobile and drug manufacturers, and any company eager to enter the post-World War II China market, also paid their dues to CNRRA and were accepted into the club.
My oldest brother was in the transportation business. Today he speaks wryly of the slick way in which relief goods he was supposed to transship inland vanished before he could load them into his trucks. The Auto Palace, a British-owned car dealership that also made repairs, was purchased by the Soong and Kung cabal. Tons of crated car parts, refrigerator parts, and miscellaneous goods flowed into the Auto Palace and emerged assembled, to be sold to wealthy Chinese. Our family did see a stray can or two of powdered milk, but that came to happen, perhaps, because powdered milk was not a very popular food among the Chinese.
The Chinese communist party was founded by eight men in 1921. One of them was Mao Tse-tung, Chiang Kai-shek his ally. The two worked together; they talked of helping China achieve national unification. Then Chiang began to see his own destiny as China's ruler, and in March 1927 he broke with Mao. He sent his message by massacring communist workers in Shanghai and by dissolving trade unions. They fought each other until the big war made them allies again, after which they recommenced their struggles, Kuomintang against the People's Liberation Army.
By 1949 Mao was ready to squash the rotten apple that Chiang had become. Across the land, the communists--coached by their Soviet advisors--gathered strength and began their sweep.
What only one leader had ever done before--Chin Shi Huang-ti, the first emperor of China in 221 B.C.--Mao Tse-tung did. Mao Tse-tung (and didn't we all love to twit Mao for his little red book and the slogans people went around shouting?) and his insurgents pushed through the vast, difficult, diverse, unmanageable territories and unified the equally difficult and diverse peoples of China.
A lot more Chinese were killed in the process. When combined with urban campaigns against counterrevolutionaries, death by execution totaled between two and three million during the three years between 1949 and 1952. An official count has never been achieved. In Shanghai, we avoided the Race Course on Bubbling Well Road where people were taken to be shot. Cleverly, the Party maintained its control by turning everyone into a spy. Neighbors spied on neighbors. Children told on their parents if they heard complaints of the regime at home. Anyone could write a name on a piece of paper and drop it into one of the boxes provided for that purpose on street corners. The identity of the informer was unnecessary. I suspect many personal animosities were settled in this way.
And still, despite the dread of this strange, hard regime, China began to feel proud again. Mao Tse-tung ignited eager young idealists in the universities and turned them loose upon the populace. Idealism was fine, the oldsters thought, but at such human cost? They spoke softly, however, and within their own four walls.
Chinese repudiated the foreign ways they had learned. They threw over and destroyed totems of foreign rule wherever they found them. In the frenzy of the Cultural Revolution beginning in 1966 they destroyed their own Chinese symbols of decadence, which to them became anything from precious porcelains to rare books.
When a revolution takes to burning books, a milestone is always established. The movement has exceeded itself; the fervor of reform cannot but itself fall into decadence.
And now, with the outburst on Tienanman Square, a new revolt may be breeding in the People's Republic of China.
Two generations of censorship have rendered those youths into pages as blank as mine were when I was eighteen. How else to explain the direction of their yearnings for self-expression? Why was Uncle Sam, the Paper Tiger, whose collaborators once were denounced as running dogs, suddenly a hero?
In a reversal of historical anti-foreign feeling, the young people erected an ersatz Statue of Liberty, and they cried out to be liberated from their oppressive government. We want freedom, we want to elect our own government, we want to better our lives in our own way.
The day may come when China will open once more to free trade with outsiders avid for the China market. The traffic in buying and selling in the 1980's has never been that; if anyone has noticed, China has consistently sold much, much more of its goods and services abroad than it has bought. In the lessons of the Opium War and the Boxer Rebellion, the Chinese lost their naivete. They were always shrewd businessmen; they also do not hold a world monopoly on corruption. In the old, colonial days, they were merely outgunned, and the reverberations of those guns have yet to fade away.
Author's note: To conform to the original spelling of Chiang Kai-shek, I have avoided the Pinyin romanization of Mao Tse-tung and Chin Shi Huang-ti. Romanized, these would be Mao Zedong and Qin Shi Huangdi. Similarly, place names remain unchanged by the Pinyin system.
References: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th Edition
Shanghai: City For Sale, by Ernest O. Hauser, Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1940
How The Far East Was Lost, Copyright 1967, A publication of the Congressional Quarterly Service
The U.S. & China, 4th Ed., by John King Fairbanks, Harvard U. Press, Cambridge, Mass. & London, England, 1979