John Paton

Wu Ningkun




INT: And tell us a bit... you were saying that the intellectuals, the intelligentsia were in many ways in the front line of this reassessment of attitudes, tell us how that change impacted on you and others like you.

WN: In the beginning, the intellectuals were pressured to accept the Soviet Union and the Beijing Moscow relationship as the best thing in the world. The Soviets were called Big Brothers or [inaudible]. We had to learn from the [inaudible], from the Big Brother in every way. China had to be Sovietised, see. The government tried so hard to achieve that and suddenly there was a turnabout. Now we had to do exactly the opposite thing. Of course they always said we loved the Soviet people, but we hate the revisionists. And the way the assault on the Soviet Union and the Soviet party, what are they called the Bolsheviks, started, we had to examine how the intellectuals had been affected byrevisionist thinking. So we became tools, lackeys of US Imperialism andSoviet revisionism. That was most incredible and bizarre, but everybody said how they were poisoned by Soviet revisionism and all that and this lasted all the way and into the cultural revolution. Because [inaudible] was the last of the revisionists, you see.

INT: You seem to have spoken pretty freely through the fifties and through this period, so how did you survive these enormous changes in cultural and political thinking?

WN: Well, I spoke pretty freely until 1958, when I was denounced as a rightist. So I did not really survive well. But the Communist way is to put the pressure on for a while and then make things more relaxed, so that you would speak your mind and they would keep the record of it. and every time they would tell you, oh this will never happen again. Like in 1955 I was denounced as hidden culture... counter-revolutionary and my apartment was searched and I was under house arrest. But when it was over, they apologized, said it was all a misunderstanding. So I felt OK, so I wasn't bad. You people went too far, they admitted they went too far. So I spoke with greater urgency. The next campaign came, of course I was court and urged to speak. In 1957, the party leaders came here home, to urge you to speak up, to help the party to rectify its work style, to help the [inaudible] to do a better job. So I started speaking up, openly, as I was, we need freedom of speech. Not only for ourselves, but for the party and for the nation, if the party is serious about rectification. And that's the end of my free level speech!

INT: So tell us a little, if you would, what happened after your denunciation, where were you sent and what were the consequences?

WN: Yes. Well after my denunciation I was of course publicly humiliated, I was deprived of everything, I was expelled from the ranks of the teachers and they sent me first to the detention center in Beijing, and then to the northern great wilderness, on the Soviet border, facing Siberia, for forced labor reform. That's...

INT: What did that program of forced labor reform involve? What was your routine?

WN: Well, the routine was hard labor, twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours a day, sometimes it was non-stop, even when the temperature went down to minus forty degrees. I survived, but I was sent back to the [inaudible] State Farm near Beijing. It became harsher because the whole nation underwent a historical famine. People were dying even outside prisons, so I was nearly starved to death until my wife came to my rescue.

INT: What...


INT: Tape 10493, eighth of February 1997, New York City, continuation of interview with Mr. Wu Ningkun. What were the main reasons behind the Great Famine? Some people have said it was a consequence of the fall-out with the Soviet Union and the ending of Soviet support for China, was that a factor?

WN: There are several reasons behind the Great Famine. One was the falling out with the Soviet Union, not because they withdraw their support, but because they demanded repayment of debts in goods and they wanted food. And Mao Tse Tung said, we'll give them all we can. So the Chinese people was starving and the Soviets were getting our rice, our flour, our pork, our eggs, our apples and everything. And secondly, because of the stupid agricultural policies instituted by Mao Tse Tung himself. So the famine was man-made. As [inaudible] had put it later on, that was thirty per cent natural disaster and seventy per cent man factor. Meaning Mao Tse Tung's disastrous policies.

INT: It's difficult for people who've not been through a period of famine and deprivation to understand quite what it must have been like. What are your most vivid memories of the famine years and the struggle people went through?

WN: Well, to speak about it from my personal experience of the famine, I was relocated to the Clear River State Farm towards the end of 1960. Our food rations were already cut in Bei Da Whan in the great northern wilderness, but we still had real food, we still had... corn bread and vegetables and what not, enough to survive. But when I was relocated to the Clear River State Farm, there was no real food at all, at all. we collected the famous Beijing [inaudible], the celery cabbage, you know, very good, that's the almost staple for all the people in the Beijing area. But even the cabbages grown by the prisoners were sent to Beijing. So we thought we would just sweep away the loose leaves. The officers came and said, 'What? Collect them!' and then there were dry leaves, we just left them. That too. This is going to be our food for the next two months. And then we were given what they call food substitute, food substitute, which was made from the roots of corn stocks and probably some grass and what not, which was indigestible and people just got so sick. There was no real food, so they asked the families to send food parcels. So when the government couldn't feed the prisoners any more, but they still kept them hard labor, putting charge on the families. Luckily, my wife's family was in Canjing and my wife had already been sent down to An We Province, by her family and my sister lived in Beijing at the time. [Inaudible]. Furthermore, they had to bring their food parcels hand deliveries, you can't mail them, [clears throat], so I managed to survive. But one day, the officer sent me and a couple of other men, three other men to a corner, a remote corner of the farm and said, 'Go and dig this... dig a hole, a pit', you know, three by six or two by four, what not, you know, he never said what it was four. But when it was finished, we saw a horse carriage, not carriage, I mean a cart pulled by a horse coming toward us with a corpse on it. His feet were not covered by the mat, the straw mat and we lifted... was the guy who slept next to me. He had died of starvation. His family was in Hunan Province, they couldn't come to see him. [Clears throat]. And that's what the officer said at the time, 'No food, no life'.

WN: But didn't you feel this was incredible, you're on a state farm and you're picking up scraps and leaves?

WN: Well... looking at it from the outside it's incredible, looking at it from the inside, it's just the way things are. It's very sad, yes, and my wife came to my rescue, so I was probably dying from starvation, so she went up to Beijing to plead with my former bosses and said, what's good of having a professor dying in prison, when he could be helped. We will bring him back to life, if you guys want him back, he will come back afterwards. They finally said, OK, you go. They didn't want me on their hands any more, they couldn't feed me and they didn't want me to die on their hands.

INT: Meanwhile you were still being asked to perform physical labors...

WN: [Interrupts] Oh yes, yes.

INT: the body was getting very little nutrition...

WN: [Interrupts] Yes, yes.

INT: ...but still demands were made on you.

WN: Yes, yes.

INT: Mmm. Can we move on a few years now to the mid-sixties and the period of the Cultural Revolution. When that came along, when that force was unleashed, how were you personally affected because of your former associations with the United States?

WN: When the Cultural Revolution erupted, we realized immediately I would be in for it again. But I think China... you're in for it forever. Even though my rightist label was removed in 1964, but that only made me a rightist without a label, so I was still a rightist, you see! A rightist was by definition a counter-revolutionary. Therefore, when it started, they caught me again, but this time I was no longer a very important catch, since I was already caught. They were trying to catch the big ones within the party. So, but our house was searched, I was sent to forced labor again and I struggled against, I was made to confess all over again and they said, well, don't tell us old stories, come up with something new. I said, there is nothing new! You think you can hide behind the rightist label? So I started rebutting, I said, you meanI am a CIA agent? We didn't say it, you said it. 'Cos I knew they could do nothing. If they wanted to kill me, there was nothing I could do about it and they had no reason to me. So I was sent to the countryside and finally the whole family, my wife and I and three kids were sent to a village in An We Province.

INT: Your interrogators that you were talking about just now, these were now Red Guards, these are young people, this is a new generation. How did you feel being accused by that generation, you who'd come back to help build up China?

WN: Oh, you don't think that way any more, because they were the minions of the state, you see, although some of them were my former students. It was bizarre.

INT: Again, you told us some of the slogans of the earlier period, what were the slogans that were being chanted during that period, '66, '67, '68?

WN: There was 'Down with Soviet revisionism' was still used, 'Down with US Imperialism' was still on and 'Down with the Chinese revisionists', 'Down with the Capitalist roaders within the party', people who take the capitalist road, like Den Xiaoping and U Fao Chi , they were called capitalist roaders and of course the most important was 'Long live Chairman Mao'!