My Time with Harry: A Memorial
By: Feng Zhixuan, fellow sufferer
When I heard the news about the sudden death of Harry I was very surprised and sad! I was shocked with grief. He was an anti-rightist laojiao friend who, in the 1950s had suffered the same fate as me.
Harry was a man from Shanghai. A young man who liked to quietly read in the library of the Beijing Geological Institute. Until a disaster, that only a higher power knows the reason. He was convicted on fabricated charges for speaking his mind and thrown behind bars for 19 years. Now, he has passed away in an unfortunate accident in a foreign country. I feel in the impermanence of life a catastrophe can happen anytime.
Let me take you back to 1958, after the Spring Festival in that year, it was the first time when the Communist Party (irreverently referred to as “My Party”) started to persecute the rightists. Du Gao in the drama industry, Ba Hong in the film industry, Liu Naiyuan in the press industry and me working in the central government were the first to be dealt with by way of discharging our professional positions in government and forced into labor reform. We were then, confined under surveillance by the police shut in by a huge electrified wall. I was imprisoned in a laogai clothing factory in Qinghe. Du Gao, Ba Hong and Liu Naiyuan were sent to the laogai clothing factory in Miche Lake in the province of Heilongjiang. Around May 1962, when the first famine happened in China, we were gathered and sent to Tuanhe laogai clothing factory in the southern suburbs of Beijing to continue our labor reform. It was there I met Harry.
At the beginning of the movement in 1957, college students like Harry were constantly monitored with heavy surveillance and supervision by the schools. After 1958, My Party created an unprecedented national famine leading to thousands of deaths. Because the social tension and turbulence made by My Party feel the need to keep society stable, it upgraded the rightists’ outside the police’s circle to labor reform. It was the time when Harry was officially arrested and sent to labor reform. Harry did not acknowledge his arrest. He was first sent to laogai clothing factory in Beiyuan. On May 1962, he was sent to Tuanhe laogai clothing factory when I met him. From October 1962, until almost 1969 was the Cultural Revolution. We were thrown just like clods into the third laogai clothing factory in Qinghe.
Being in the third factory surrounded by high-electric walls, for me was like revisiting the old place. For Harry it was like the first time. He came to understand more of the truth of Chinese prisons, experiencing for himself the suffering of a political prisoner under totalitarianism. The experience would have a huge impact on his work in his remaining life.
At that time, Harry was just a young man. He was slim, but healthy. He was smart, efficient and good at laboring. The friends who suffered with us gave him a nickname, “goat” which signified his dexterity, slender physique, stubbornness and demur for authority. The nickname had additional meaning signifying kindness and easy-going demeanor.
We were assigned in two different teams. He was in the second team, and I was in the third team. We began work early everyday, and came back “home” late. We sometimes had the chance to meet. Without exchanging words we saw in each other’s eyes that our minds were alike. We were kindred spirits.
Gradually, we ran into each other more and more. One time, I lost my white shoulder pads, which were round thick pads that could cover the shoulder preventing injury when carrying heavy loads. I was really worried. Two days later, Harry gave the shoulder pads to me. He said, “Hey, Feng Zixiu, did you lose these shoulder pads?”
I stared blankly, and asked, “What did you say?” He said, “I called you Feng Zixiu, which sounds just like your name.” He then joked with a smile, “You are the epitome of feudalism, capitalism, and revolutionist ideas! You are so hard to “reform” you can never meet the standard.” After saying that, his eyes revealed an expression of confidence. I felt deeply that he knew so much of who I was.
One time I was working in the field. Harry and I began discussing the relationship between China and Russia as well as the Vietnam War. He said in a low voice “There is fighting for ruling power in Vietnam. The United States is carpet-bombing. How many people will die in this incident?” I responded, “War is the legacy of class conflict! Ngo Dinh Diem represents the capitalist class and Ho Chi Minh represents the proletarian class. Even they do not believe this kind of theory.” We both laughed. Obviously this kind of grandiloquent theory and propaganda did not crush our rationality.
In October 1969, My Party held the 9th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. As capital rightists we had been sentenced to 12-years hard labor, but our hometowns determined where the next labor camp would be. Those prisoners like Harry from Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin, were given forced job placement (the so called second laogai) to dig trenches in Shanxi Jincheng area. I was taken to Liu village clothing factory in Shahe County. We were separated for ten years.
On December 1978, after the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the CPC, the “rightists” were finally free. After being release, Harry taught in Wuhan Geology College. In the 1980s he went to the United States.
After being in the Communist Party’s prisons for nineteen years, Harry courageously promoted Chinese human rights, democracy, and freedom in the US. He established the Laogai Research Foundation in the land of the free. Because of his efforts, the word laogai made it’s way into the Oxford Dictionary. He cared about the lives and careers of the friends who had suffered with him in the Mainland. He published and propagated the darkness of totalitarian with tenacious perseverance. He gathered facts and documents in China with great risk. In short, I think it is justifiable to claim him as “The Warrior of Freedom and Democracy.” After he passed away in an accident, the US House of Representatives held a memorial, celebrating his contribution to promote democracy and freedom that I think he fully deserved. He was an outstanding representative of the rightists, and he had done things that we could not accomplish.
However, there is a dark force, trying to undermine his reputation. People personally attacking his name and spreading unfounded rumors about him. They say he is not a political prisoner (or rightist), but a hooligan, and they try everything to disparage him. Yet, it is not strange at all, because the dark forces always do this; no matter if it’s against people in their own group, the people thought to be “friends” and even those who had suffered right along with Harry.
These people can only act in the shadows. They won’t reveal themselves; use their real names, because they’re cowards. I condemn these kinds of disgraceful tricks.
Harry is gone. He did his part and now we, the living, carry the reigns to finish the job. He was a great man while alive, and he must also be a great spirit in his passing. He did not die in vain. He stood up for other people. He stood upright, proud, and defiant. His name will be one written in history, and known to the masses.
In the winter of 2013, I sent a poem to Harry expressing my respect and memory to my old friend.
Night’s life ends at midnight, the sky covered in black clouds waits to clear,
My soul mate travels far away over sea, leaving me alone,
When the flowers and trees flourish, I miss my friend oversea. When the night is dark and windy I miss Huang Feihong (a great martial artist in Chinese history also means Harry)
Do not say that Harry is an old man; he shot many pictures to discover the ugly truth.
Feng Zhixuan is second from the left in the back with the dark blue shirt. The banner reads: Condemning the People's Daily Newspaper editorial from June 8, 1957 against people for humanitarianism.
The above was translated from the original Chinese.