In Custody along with American Peking Opera Actor Playing Female Roles (Part 2)Posted: June 30, 2014 | |
Walter Was Lucky in Not Having Been Persecuted by Red Guards
As he and I lived in the same lane and his house was only two houses further than mine, we walked home together at noon and in the evening and became friends.
I told him that he was very lucky that his Peking opera troupe dissolved. He was amazed to hear that and said, “Are you crazy? I am unemployed now!”
I said, “Yes, I know. But it is better than being denounced, imprisoned and beaten. You know that everywhere Peking opera actors, especially well-known ones, have been denounced, struggled at, detained and beaten by Red Guards. The Red Guards said that they were punished for having the stages dominated by reactionary plays about feudal emperors, kings, generals and prime ministers. You are lucky that they have not punished you because you had stopped giving performance since long ago when your troupe dissolved.”
“No,” he said, “I did not stop giving performance. I gave performance in private for rich people at their wedding and birthday parties. Otherwise, how can I earn a living. I cannot find another job. Even if I can, it would be a job of manual labor that I am not able to do. Now, I am really hard up as there are no rich people now. My interrogators told me to apply for poverty relief. The maximum amount of that is 10 yuan (US$4.40 according to the official rate at that time) a month per head. It is not enough for me to use as my pocket money.”
“You will get only 2 yuan less than other well-known Peking opera actors. Red guards have raided all their houses, taken away all valuables and left them in dire poverty. Their troupes now only pay them 12 yuan a month per head. Money-wise, they are not better off, you see.”
I knew that he was financially desperate then. His sister’s former husband was in prison for a counterrevolutionary crime, leaving her, a housewife, and their five children not provided for. It was very difficult for his sister to find a job at that time because China’s economy was recovering from the economic depression called by the Party as the three years of natural disaster; therefore, without the husband’s salary, they were starving. She could apply for poverty relief, but usually the government would move them out of Shanghai to remote areas, then her children might lose the opportunity of good education and jobs in Shanghai. Her husband’s younger brother was then single and earning a salary a little less than 100 yuan. The brother was willing to use much of his salary to support his sister-in-law’s family, but 100 yuan was indeed not much. It was hard to maintain two separate families with such an income. He had better move into his sister-in-law’s home so as to greatly reduce their living expense. However, he might be in trouble if there was merely a rumor that he had an affair with his sister-in-law, a counterrevolutionary’s wife.
When the younger brother visited his elder brother in the prison, the two brothers discussed the matter and decided that the brother in prison should divorce his wife and then the younger brother should marry the elder brother’s wife. This was what I learnt from our maid before the Cultural Revolution. I do not know what actually happened between the two brothers. Our maid was of the opinion that it was a pity that when a man became a counterrevolutionary, he lost not only his freedom but also his wife and children. According to our maid, some of my neighbors thought that a man should not take advantage of his brother’s misfortune to rob his brother of his wife.
I knew Walter’s sister. She was indeed beautiful. The brother must be happy to have such a beautiful wife. However, at that time she had had already five children and could by no means be regarded as young. Moreover, 100 yuan a month was quite a high salary at that time. On average a university graduate earned only 58 yuan and the average young worker’s wage was about 40 yuan. With such a high salary, it is easy for the brother to find a young and pretty girl to marry. I believe that either the brother was really a good brother willing to sacrifice himself for his elder brother or he was deeply in love with his former sister-in-law. By the divorce and remarriage, Walter’s sister was no longer a counterrevolutionary’s wife and her children no longer a counterrevolutionary’s children. They, especially the children, would not be discriminated in their pursuit for higher education and good jobs. Except in 1961, in the period from 1958 to 1966, as a rule, counterrevolutionaries’ children were not admitted into any tertiary education institution. At that time I believed that should be the major purpose of the divorce and remarriage. However, though divorce and remarriage were lawful in China at that time, Walter’s sister was looked down upon by some of her neighbors because of the Chinese tradition against women’s remarriage.
Anyway, at that time Walter lived in his sister’s home where the eight people there had to live on a monthly income of about 100 yuan, 12 yuan per head. They were well below poverty line.
Chiang Ching-kuo’s Dinner
One day on our way home, Walter told me that he was in trouble. I asked him why. He said his interrogators told him that they knew that Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek’s son Chiang Ching-kuo (who was later Taiwan’s president) gave him a dinner and a Longines watch as a gift when he was giving performances in Nanjing before the communists came to power.
I told him he had nothing to worry about that. As a well-known actor playing female roles, he certainly would have some contacts with Kuomintang high officials. I asked whether there was anything political in his contacts with them. He said no. They gave him dinners after they saw his performances because they liked his performances. I said that if so, he had nothing to worry. However, as there were surely reports about his contacts with the officials in the newspapers then, he had better tell his interrogators all such contacts before they found such contacts themselves in old newspapers.