INTO GUERRILLA COUNTRY
35. Guerrilla Girl
|STAYING only long enough to see the finish
of the dancing, we set out once more on the road, this time heading south,
toward the Chang River, which here marked the boundary between the Communists
and the Kuomintang. As we would have to thread our way around Kuomintang-held
towns, we had a guide avid seven or eight militiamen as a guard.
Because Chiang's troops held the town of Kwangtai at the main river crossing in this region, we had to dc4ible back on ourselves and move westward in order to find a crossing that they could not enfilade with machine-gun fire. This, coupled with the fact that we had started late, delayed us so that we did not reach the river that night, as we had planned, but holed up in a small town called Paicha. As we were not expected, there was some difficulty in finding a room. While Mr. Chen went off to see what he could scrape up, I took refuge in a bathhouse with Liu Ming-chi. A loud crowd soon gathered outside so that even our augmented force was scarcely enough to keep them back. Finding the atmosphere of the bathhouse too close and steamy for comfort, I decided to go out and brave the lesser evil of the crowd. Deliberately I sat on a stone in the center of the street and let the peasants come up and paw me to their heart's content. It made Liu Ming-chi sad to see me so besieged, but I did not mind playing the freak so much, for I found that once I had said a few Chinese words, people ceased to look at me as something strange.
| The faithful Mr. Chen,
after an hour or so of tedious searching, returned and led us outside of
town to a tremendous stone mansion, formerly occupied by a landlord, but
at the moment occupied by the owner of the Kwangtai coal mines, a refugee
from the Kuomintang. It was not my intention to bring the coal-mine owner
into this book, but since returning to America I have been rather surprised
by the fact that certain statements of ex-Ambassador William C. Bullitt,
given wide circulation by Time and Life magazines, gained some credence
among American congressmen who had no way of knowing differently and consequently
had few qualms about throwing a half a billion American dollars into the
lap of Chiang Kai-shek.
Mr. Bullitt declared in a letter to Life Magaaitte that refugees fled from Communist areas, but not from those areas controlled by Chiang. While the first statement is true, the last is patently untrue. I personally saw thousands of people flee to the Communists, not out of ideas of romance or adventure, but simply to escape the tax collectors, the draft agents and the mobsters who buried their relatives alive in pits. And not all were poor. Here in this village I was now face to face with a capitalist, a quoter of Confucius, a wealthy man, if you please, who had run away from Chiang Kai-shek.
"Do you think I was a poor man?" he said, smiling sadly.
"My father and my grandfather before him managed the coal mines at
Kwangtai. I have vast property there. I was rich. But I gave it all up.
Why? I was being made poor by Chiang Kai-shek.
Obviously, this mine owner was quite angry. To calm him down I asked
him if he approved of the land reform.
Early the next morning, after a meager breakfast, we set out for the
Chang River. It would have been better to cross the river at night, for
we would be within artillery range of the Kuomintang garrison at Kwangtai.
But there seemed little danger even in the daytime, as there was a hill
between the ferry and the Kuomintang guns and, according to the militiamen,
the Kuomintang gunners were no good at indirect fire.
After an interminable walk, even the fields gave way and we found ourselves marching between sheer rock walls which rose to heights of two and three hundred feet above us. The trail in this canyon doubled and bent back on itself in a most surprising way and it seemed almost as if we were marching through a maze set in an unroofed cave.
| Emerging from this canyon,
we abruptly came out on the shores of the Chang River, a pale, green, swiftly
flowing stream which just at this point emerged from between two rocky hill
walls and ran on a straight course toward the plains below. The little village
of Yangchen, divided in two by the river, with its gray, flat-roofed houses
- on top of which stood a sentry with a rifle looking downstream toward
the Kuomintang lines - was just at the water's edge. Upstream, a mile or
so toward the west, were two rock cliffs between which ran a wire cable.
By means of this cable, men were pulling a flat-bottomed boat hand over
hand across the stream. Marching up a rocky beach, we boarded this crude
ferry, slowly crossed the river, which ran clear and cool here in the hills,
and reaching the other side, set foot in Anyang County.
Resting awhile in the other half of Yangchen, we munched on a few carrots and drank some water at the local outdoor teahouse. Actually, this teahouse consisted of two tables and a few benches placed near a bonfire, and there was nothing so luxurious as tea but only hot water. People here seemed poorer than on the other side of the river. Cotton showed through holes in the black pants and the white jackets worn by the mountain children, and the breasts of the women feeding their babies seemed less full of milk than I had heretofore seen.
The village was very tiny, yet it boasted a school, which I discovered
by walking into a tiny temple set near the water. The temple, if it had
once owned idols, now had none, but was completely bare save for the pupils'
benches. There were no desks; some stone ledges, upon which the idols
might formerly have rested, served the purpose. School was not in session,
but there were some books lying on the benches and I picked up and read
"Not here." (Dead.)
"That's too bad," I said.
"Her mother huo mai," he said.
I didn't understand the words "huo mai," - though in the
next few days I got to know what they meant very well - and after a few
perfunctory words I went back to the tea tables.
| I told Mr. Chen the story and we tried to find the girl, but she had gone. While this had been taking place, our guards had been inquiring the conditions of the road from a few stray militiamen who were operating in and out of Kwangtai. From information they gathered, it seemed that the Kuomintang had stuck a probing finger still deeper into the hills and that we would have to climb back to the west some more and make a detour. As it was already late, we decided to call a halt and rest on the banks of the river for the night.
Having noticed among the militiamen a girl with a pistol and having learned that she was a member of the militia band, I spent a great part of the night interviewing her.
Her name was Misu. She was quite husky and looked almost like a masquerading boy, with stocky legs and heavy shoulders. Possibly nineteen, she had deep red cheeks and straight hair that fell to her shoulders in a bob, and she had a sensuous mouth. She wore a pair of torn gray, cotton pants, stained with recent mud, and a wine-colored jacket, filthy with the drippings from many millet bowls. She was the daughter of a tenant farmer who had gone blind when she was young. Two of her sisters had starved to death in a famine and she had only kept alive by living in the fields with her grandmother and eating raw vegetables.
When Misu was twelve, the chief of her village had conscripted her to work on a road for the Japanese. At the hands of the Chinese overseer, she had suffered daily beatings, traces of which her body still bore. When she was fifteen or sixteen, she had been betrothed to a boy one year her junior. Because most of her family was starving, she went immediately to her in-laws?house, becoming not so much a wife as a maidservant. She never ate with the others, but only what they left, and that was never much. Whenever she had an argument with her husband, he ran and told his mother and the two of them beat her unmercifully. They beat her on the back, on the legs and on the breasts, all the while telling her that she was a most ungrateful girl.
Her husband worked as a clerk for the Japanese Army and often Japanese officers came to visit her mother-in-law who made her serve the officers tea and cakes. She rebelled against these duties, for the Japanese generally molested her. After one such refusal, she was beaten in a particularly brutal fashion. In despair, she locked herself in her room, tied a rope over a beam and hanged herself. She lost consciousness, but woke up some hours later, the broken rope around her neck and her bed smeared with blood.
Afterward, she was sick and could not work well. As a consequence, she was beaten even more severely and deprived of almost all food. Despairing of her life, she ran home. Her mother- and father-in-law followed and broke into her house. Her grandmother fought viciously to prevent her from being taken away, but was beaten insensible to the ground. Neighbors came to her rescue. From then on she lived at home with her grandmother, the two of them, as before, eking out a starvation diet from the vegetables they grew on their small plot of ground. From time to time, however, her husband and mother-in-law caught her and beat her and she went in constant fear of being kidnaped.
| About this time, the Japanese retreated and the 8th Route Army, which had occupied the hills around Kwangtai, entered the town.
One day a girl cadre came to her home and said: "Your neighbors tell me you have suffered much. Now a new day has come for Chinese women and there is no longer any need for you to suffer."
Because no one had ever shown her any sympathy before, Misu was completely won over by the cadre's kindness. She confided her hopes to her grandmother - her only friend. The old woman agreed it would be wonderful if women were the equal of men, but dashed cold water on Misu's hopes. "From ancient times till now," she said, "man has been the Heaven, woman the earth. What chance do we have?"
Misu told her grandmother's words to the cadre. "You must organize," said the cadre. "If we form a Women's Association and everyone tells their bitterness in public, no one will dare to oppress you or any women again."
Much moved, the girl threw herself wholeheartedly into the work of organizing the women on her street. Because of her zeal she was elected head of the Women's Association on her block. Through the aid of this association, she succeeded in obtaining a divorce from her husband.
About this time, the civil war started. Kwangtai organized its own militia. The girl used to sit by the militiamen and watch them clean their guns. Soon she was cleaning the gun of each armed man on her street. As a joke, they taught her how to fire a rifle, but always without bullets. In the meantime, the new government to allevinte her poverty gave her some millet. She was very happy.
In 1946, the Kuomintang armies, having entered the North China Plain below, decided to attack and occupy Kwangtai and eliminate any threat from guerrillas in the Taihang Mountains. Many people left the city. Misu went along, helping other women find homes and obtaining cotton for them so that they could spin and make enough money to keep alive.
Later, she returned to within a mile of her native Kwangtai and volunteered her services to a band of militiamen. They laughed at her. She persisted. Finally they allowed her to help with the cooking and to mend clothes. Soon she began to do espionage work, binding up her hair like a married woman, entering the town and gathering information.
On New Year's Eve, she left a note written by the county magistrate in a basket of candy and cigarettes outside a Kuomintang blockhouse. "We know you have been impressed into service," said the note, "so we bear you no enmity. If things get too hard, run over here to us." As a result, two Kuomintang soldiers had come over.
Misu was very proud, but still not satisfied, because she had done no fighting. She trained herself for combat by shooting dogs in the hills. "Wolves," she told all who questioned her. Later, she overcame her fear of hand grenades by standing on rocky ledges and throwing them into the river far below. After that the farmers let her carry arms and go on raids.
Because she knew Kwangtai well, she soon came to plan most of the raids. On such raids, she generally acted as the lookout for the militiamen. Once, however, she climbed over the wall of Kwangtai and participated in a gun fight with members of the Home Returning Corps organized by the Kuomintang. On this occasion two of the enemy were killed. "Maybe I shot one of them; I don't know," she said.
This girl could neither read nor write. She knew nothing of Communism. She had taken up arms, she said, because the soldiers of the 8th Route Army were the first who had ever been kind to the people of Kwangtai. If the 8th Route Army were beaten, her life would not be worth living. After peace came, she had high hopes of a better life. She was not ambitious. She just wanted to be a working girl. She thought China could build up industry and she could work in a factory. That would give her great satisfaction.
In all my years in China, this was the first girl whom I had actually
seen carrying a gun on the front. This girl had not joined the guerrillas
out of any romantic notions, but to fight for her existence. Plain to
the point of ugliness, and with rough hands and coarse features, she was
no glamor girl. She had no dresses, but only the clothes she wore upon
her back. She had never owned a toothbrush, nor ever brushed her teeth,
and by the looks of her, had seldom come in contact with soap, so desperate
was her poverty. What she lacked in beauty and dainty manners, however,
she made up for with passion and a vital animal energy. I haven't used
her real name here because she was engaged in a very dangerous business
that would probably only lead to execution if she were caught.
The next day, we proceeded slightly to the north, then south and west around a domed hill within a few thousand yards of Kuomintang positions and picked up a band of farmers who had fled over from Chiang's side. We continued walking over a narrow mountain trail, and at last, sometime after dark reached the headquarters of the Anyang County government.
On waking in the morning, I found myself in a small village extremely
clean and in a way quite charming, which was located on a plateau and
built half on the side of a hill. The village had about four hundred people,
two schools, a couple of wells, no shops, but one street barber.