LAND AND REVOLUTION
30. Stone Wall Village
OVERTHROWING a European government by a coup d'etat at the top, as was
done in Czechoslovakia, is perhaps an exact science when done by a sufficient
party of trained cadres with arms in hand. But making a revolution from
the bottom up, village by village, as was done in China, is an inexact
art that guarantees no sure success and that demands a world of patience,
an infinitude of cunning and a bellyful of resolution. Such activities,
if scrambled at, can become dangerous.
About one hundred families lived in Stone Wall Village, many of them in caves hollowed out of the side of the mountain at the base of which the village was situated. South of the town ran a river, overhung with willows and cedars, on the banks of which was a mill where the people ground their wheat and Indian corn - the two crops raised yearly by Stone Wall Village. The barren aspect of the place was somewhat relieved by small orchards of peach, apricot and pear trees.
| Stone Wall Village had
one peculiarity that set it apart from most Chinese villages: its women
did not raise many children. The reasons for this were manifold. In the
first place, many of the farmers were too poor to support a wife and did
not marry. Secondly, girl babies were often strangled by their parents at
birth because of poverty. Thirdly, the Japanese, who had occupied a strong
point on the opposite bank of the river for six years, had raped many of
the women, venereal disease had become widespread and many of the women
had become sterile.
Politically, Stone Wall Village was in the hands of its village chief, a landlord named Wang Chang-ying. Although his personal characteristics are not germane to this story, it may be mentioned in passing that Landlord Wang was fifty years old, that he wore a small goatee and smoked a long-handled water pipe. In fair weather, it was said that he promenaded on the streets and beat any child who was unfortunate enough to bump into him. At sight of him, many of the village poor would immediately run indoors.
Wang's possessions included sixty-five acres (no one else owned more than three acres) of irrigated land, the riverside mill, a large store of grain, one wife, one son, one daughter, one daughter-in-law and a vengeful nature.
Because of the landlord's comparative wealth, Wang's wife and daughter were the best-dressed women in the village, and for the same reasons the cleanest. During the war against Japan, Chang had coerced his wife and daughter to service the sexual needs of a Japanese platoon leader stationed in the village of Chaopeitsun, two miles away, and from this relationship the family had derived profit, if not pleasure. The platoon leader winked an eye at the share of the Japanese grain levy (exacted from the peasantry) kept by Wang and also brought the family gifts of cloth and furniture gained from his various looting expeditions.
The economic transactions of his father and the sexual ones of his mother and sister did not disturb the son of Landlord Wang, for through these arrangements he was able to avoid being conscripted for hard labor as were the other youths of the village. Twenty-five years old, tall, handsome and with a proud manner, Wang's son used to stride about the village in the daytime in a long black gown and a clean white towel on his head. At night, however, he was a tiger on the prowl, peremptorily knocking on doors and forcing himself on whatever woman took his fancy. If any were bald enough to object, he would threaten them with the Japanese.
Wang's chief friend in the village was a rich farmer named Shih Ping-hua,
who acted as the landlord's clerk and assistant. There were two or three
other small landlords in the village, but none of them owned more than
two acres of land and none had power.
During the Japanese war, the landlord used to feast the Japanese platoon leader at frequent intervals, exacting from his tenants all the food necessary for such entertainments. The peasants became incensed at the continued extortions and Lee's son and two militiamen decided to kill the platoon leader, but unfortunately a grenade they threw at him from an overhead cave did not explode. Learning who was behind the plot, the landlord informed the lieutenant who dragged Lee's son and the two militiamen from the fields and slowly bayoneted them to death inside the Three Sects Temple. Thus Lee had come to hate Wang, but he was too afraid and had been too long suppressed to take any action of his own. There were other enemies of the landlord in the village, but here it is not necessary to do any more than note their existence.
In 1945, the Japanese Empire surrendered to the United States, but
this meant little to the people of Stone Wall Village. True, they saw
the Japanese across the river pack up and leave, and no longer did the
platoon leader come to feast with Wang and sleep with his daughter and
wife, but the landlord remained the power in the village, his son still
blackjacked women into sleeping with him, land rents remained as high
as ever and everyone was always in debt.
Nevertheless, the Revolution came to Stone Wall Village. It did not come like a flash of swift lightning; for a revolution like everything else moves slowly in China. Nor did it announce itself like a clap of thunder, with the beat of drums, the sound of rifle fire or hot slogans shouted on the country air.
To be more exact, five men brought the Revolution to Stone Wall Village. They were not soldiers nor were they Communist party members. One had been a schoolteacher, another a student, a third a waiter, a fourth a shop assistant and a fifth a farmer. They were all members of the Hohsien County Salvation Association and their job was to "Overturn" Stone Wall Village.
"Overturn" is a term of the Chinese Revolution that came
into being after the surrender of the Japanese. In Communist terminology
it means to turn over the social, political and economic life of every
village, to overturn feudalism and establish democracy, to overturn superstition
and establish reason. The first step of the overturning movement is to
"struggle" against the landlords and divide the land.
Then they called a meeting to explain these proclamations, but the people listened only half-heartedly, kept their mouths tightly shut and went home without speaking further to the cadres.
For several days, the cadres went individually among the people asking
them about local conditions and their own lives, but no one would talk.
Whenever a cadre approached groups of people, they would break apart and
move away. One or two men cornered alone admitted they were afraid of
"I guess that's the reason; my father left me no property."
They would talk like this for hours and Ma would finally acknowledge
that he was exploited by the landlord. Then he would say: "What can
I do? Everyone looks down on me. When it's mealtime, the landlord eats
inside the house, but I must eat outside, standing up. I am not good enough.
Everyone looks down on me."
Ma agreed that the landlords had to be overthrown before there could
be any happiness for the poor, but he was only half convinced of his own
statements. There was yet a long distance between words and action and
the weight of two thousand years of tradition lay very heavily on Ma as
on most Chinese peasants.
| Ma Chiu-tze became the Revolution in
Stone Wall Village. But one man is not enough to overturn feudalism. More
help was needed. So on the sixteenth night of the cadre's stay in the village,
Ma brought three of his friends into the cave, including the old farmer
Original Fortune Lee.
After offering the farmers cigarettes, the cadres' announced they had come to Stone Wall Village to help the people establish a government of their own choosing. "We know you people of Stone Wall Village are eating bitterness," they said. "we, too, in our turn have been oppressed. All the oppressed are from one home. Tell us your sufferings and we shall try to settle them for you. If you don't want to tell us tonight - why - think them over and come and tell us in three or four days."
Under the influence of this talk, the four men began to tell their own private sufferings, sometimes all speaking at once. One of them, a twenty-year-old boy named Liu Kwang, told how Wang had ordered him to go to work in the Japanese labor corps. When he refused, the landlord and his son had lowered him into a well in water up to his neck. When pulled up, he was more dead than alive and could neither work for the Japanese or in his own fields.
A long-term worker named Second Jewel Pao told how the landlord had forced him to dig up grain from a secret hiding place. Finally, Original Fortune Lee told how his son had been bayoneted to death. At this time, the four peasants became so emotional they began to cry. Toward midnight, they reached the conclusion that the time had at last come for their revenge. They swore a solemn oath. "If the Japanese come hack tomorrow or if the troops of Chiang Kai-shek come, we will turn over. Even if only for a day, we will turn."
The meeting then broke up with the decision to mobilize more farmers.
On the following night, a second meeting was attended by thirteen peasants.
It was to prove an unlucky number. In this meeting after the usual "reveal
bitterness" talk, it was decided to mobilize more farmers and then
hold a mass meeting in which all the villagers could reveal their sufferings.
That night, Original Fortune Lee did not come home. As he was an old
man and never stayed out at night his wife was worried. When a whole day
and then another passed without his appearing, she became frantic and
inquired of everyone in the village if they had seen her husband, but
no oiie could give her any information. He had last been seen leaving
the meeting and heading for home. His path, it was known, led along a
cliff that overhung the river. Whether he had slipped in the darkness
and fallen in the water or had just continued walking by his home and
left the village was a mystery which no one m the town could answer.
The revolution in Stone Wall Village had been dealt a blow. The counterrevolution had struck first.
After the murder of Original Fortune Lee the people went about in terror and shut up again like clams. Even those who had attended the second meeting now said: "We haven't begun to struggle with the landlord, but one of us is gone already.
The cadres were very much surprised by the murder. They thought they had been too careless and had not placed enough belief in the peasants' fears. They also thought a hand grenade might be thrown at any time into their meeting cave. Their biggest fear, however, was that the peasants would give up the overturning movement altogether. Therefore they decided to hold a memorial meeting in honor of Original Fortune Lee, and by this meeting to mobilize the people.
On the stage opposite the Three Sects Temple, where semireligious plays
were held during festival times, the cadres placed pictures of Mao Tze-tung,
chairman of the Chinese Communist party and General Chu Teh, commander
in chief of the Communist-led i8th Group Army. Beside these pictures they
placed strips of paper saying: WE SHALL TAKE REVENGE FOR THIS PEASANT.
"Let's get him tonight," said several farmers at once.
They took him away and locked him up overnight. That night Wang's son fled to the county seat of Hohsien, ten miles away. Here landlords from other villages had organized bandits, former puppet troops, and some of the soldiers of Warlord Yen Hsi-shan into a "Revenge Corps." When the people learned of the flight of Wang's son, they grew anxious and said among themselves: "It is easy to catch a tiger, but it is dangerous to let him go back to the forest."
Nevertheless, they decided to go ahead with the struggle against Landlord Wang. That same day a mass meeting was called in a great square field south of the town, not far from the river. About eighty people came to complain against Wang, while the rest of the village watched - among them Wang's wife and daughter.
In the course of the morning and afternoon, the crowd accused the landlord
of many crimes, including betrayal of resistance members to the Japanese,
robbing them of grain, forcing them into labor gangs. At last, he was
asked if he admitted the accusations.
About his floating body, the crowd foamed, anger wrinkling their foreheads
and curses filling their mouths. Some bent down and spit in the landlord's
eyes and others howled into his ears.
The spite of the crowd, however, was not so easily assuaged and they only answered the landlord's pleas with shouts: "Pull him up! He's too low! Higher! Higher!" After a while the anger of the people abated and cooler heads counseled. "If we let him die now, we won't be able to settle accounts with him." Then they allowed him to come down for a rest.
At this point, the wife of Original Fortune Lee came up close Wang
and said in a plaintive voice: "Somebody killed my husband. Was it
| At dusk, they let Wang down once more
and put him in a cave under guard again. As soon as the meeting was over,
twenty or thirty men went to the landlord's house, drove the wife and daughter
out of doors and sealed the house. The two women went to a near-by village
to stay with relatives.
That evening the five cadres and those who had taken an active part in the struggle against the landlord walked around the village to listen to the gossip and sample public opinion. Such words were heard as:
"Serves him right; he's so wicked. This is too light for him. Just count his sins."
Later that night another meeting of those of the village who wanted
to struggle against the landlord was held in a courtyard. This time 120
It was decided that Wang must die for his murders. But how? Should
he be sent to the district government to be punished, should the people
kill him or what?
Three days after this meeting, the whole village breakfasted early,
and shortly after sunrise, seven hundred men and women, including visitors
from neighboring villages, many armed with pig knives, hoes, sickles,
swords and spears went out to the large field south of town where the
landlord was to be killed. The cadres had written down Wang's crimes on
large pieces of paper and these, hanging by ropes from the trees, now
fluttered in the breeze.
| When the struggle against
the landlords of Stone Wall Village ended, an immediate settlement of accounts
was begun. According to Communist terminology, this involved the division
of the "fruits of struggle."
A man who could write was located and established in a cave where he wrote down all the things that were to be divided. Among other things, this included furniture, grain, cotton and cloth, but principally land.
Naturally, this was a complicated process and not everyone at first was satisfied, but after several meetings, all the land taken from Wang Chang-ying was split up in a fashion that satisfied most of the people. When all the land was divided, everyone owned on the average two-thirds of an acre of water land; not much it is true, but far more than the poor had had before. Those whose bitterness had been especially heavy in the past were favored where an exactly equal division was impossible. The families of the four murdered farmers received half an acre more than the others.
Ma Chiu-tze, who previously had owned only one-sixth of an acre of land, now had about an acre and a half for himself and his wife. As soon as the land was his, he gave a feast for his relatives, for those who made out the land credentials, for the county cadres and for those who had helped to turn over Stone Wall Village. Every day, he went out to look at his land and in autumn he weeded, cut grass and plowed the whole day long.
Liu Kwang, no longer afraid of being lowered into a well by the landlord, received a new house from the settlement. Early every morning, his wife got up and swept out the courtyard, she was so happy to be living in a house instead of a cave.
Even stranger things happened which the reader may believe or not, as he likes. In the village, there was an old man who was deaf in one ear. Once he had borrowed four cents from the landlord and he had not been able to repay it, so Wang had boxed him on the ear and he had been deaf ever since. In the overturning movement he acquired two-thirds of an acre of land and he became very happy. One day he remarked to his son: "In the past, I was deaf because I was oppressed by the landlord, but now I am in such high spirits that I can hear with my bad ear again." Shortly after this, the old man looked at the pictures of the Earth and Heaven gods on his wall and angrily said: "I worshiped you for many years, but you did me no good. Now I am going to get rid of you all." So saying, he tore the gods from the wall and threw them in the latrine.
After the struggle against the landlords, the cadres urged the village
to organize a Farmers Association and then to elect officers from among
the 155 members of whom thirty were women.
Shortly after this, the Revenge Corps of Warlord Yen Hsi-shan's army
grew increasingly active in the Taiyueh Mountains. Around Stone Wall Village,
this corps was composed mostly of landlords and a few of their bailiffs.
Sometimes they hired soldiers to make private raids on the villages which
had divided their land. At last they struck in the vicinity of Stone Wall
Because there was only one rifle in the village, the Farmers Association
decided to appropriate forty piculs of wheat to buy nine rifles and some
grenades from a near-by military factory which supplied guerrillas.
| A few nights later, Wang's son did
in reality return. This time, he came at the head of a hundred armed men.
Sentries stationed in the fields caught sight of them while they were still
on the march and ran to warn the village which was thrown into pandemonium.
Hastily packing their belongings, the people retired into the ravines back of the village. Cows, donkeys and horses were all led away in the dark. Even those who had not opposed the landlord took their grain with them. The cadres, because they had no adequate weapons to fight with a hundred armed men, retired with all the rest. Not a man nor an animal was left in Stone Wall Village.
When Wang's son returned home, he found no man on whom to spend his revenge and no plunder to carry off. In anger, he set fire to all those houses which would burn. He could not burn the caves, so he smashed the wooden windows, carried out the furniture and threw it into the flames. The people looked at their homes going up in the fire, but they said little, only quietly cursing and once in a while murmuring: "We were lucky we had sentries or we would all be dead men by now." At dawn, Wang's son and his hired crew of soldiers left. When they were not far distant, the people rushed back to the village and began to throw earth and water on their still burning houses. One by one, the fires were brought under control and put out. There was little weeping and wailing. Those whose homes were too badly damaged to live in went to live with their neighbors. At night, the five county cadres held a private meeting of their own and decided they must make active preparations for a long armed struggle. This was more than an overturning movement; this was war.
Within the next month, eleven people were killed in the near-by villages by marauding bands - bought soldiers, a few village leaders and the landlords in the Revenge Corps. The county government, unable to call on the regulars of the 8th Route Army and the guerrillas who had gone south, sent an open letter to every village to organize its own militia and put guards inside and outside the villages. In addition, volunteers came from the villages and formed a regular force of a hundred men that was at all times under command of the county.
Gradually this force brought peace to the villages. In the meantime, Stone Wall Village continued to "turn over." Taxes were lightened and the people themselves voted the amount of grain to be collected. The village elected as its new chief a forty-year-old farmer named Ma Ying-hai, who formerly had owned no land of his own, but who had acquired an acre and a half during the land division. Liu Kwang, who had been put down a well by Landlord Wang, became head of the village militia. His wife joined the Women's Association.
The position of women changed greatly. Before, they could not participate in day or night meetings or be seen on the Street after dark. Now they participated in meetings with men, day or night. There was not yet time for them to give birth to many children, but maybe the overturning movement would take care of that, too.
The people began to cast aside their superstitions, no longer believed in ghosts, fox goddesses or a fate unalterable. The temples remained untouched but no one visited them. The people said: "The Gods brought us no luck, but the 8th Route Army has brought us much luck."
Now the small landlords who fled away have come back and are working their land like common farmers.
The great house of Landlord Wang has been turned into a school. His mill which used to charge the villagers exorbitant prices to grind their grain has, become the property of the whole village. Grain is ground free for all local people. Outsiders can use the mill by paying a nominal price. The money goes to pay the expenses of the Farmers Association.