Chapter 35: Jane Zhang

I did not like what I had learned in that laboratory. I did not like the fact that my son and my boss were involved in trying to expose what those chemicals were and who was spreading them. If what they suspected was true, they had no idea how powerful the people behind this plot must be. And they had no idea that their so-called investigation would likely get us all into terrible trouble.

I had seen enough misery for one lifetime. I had seen the shattered bodies and souls of innocent – and guilty – people who had been caught up in China’s political struggles. People of every generation. The accused and the accusers alike. I had seen the evil that people do. People very close to me. People I loved and trusted. People sucked along into a system that preached lofty ideals but practiced duplicity, prevarication and betrayal to satisfy their avarice and pride. Often such evil ways were the only way to survive in the face of the political insanity that ripped China apart for decades. Families were torn asunder by children devilishly lured into informing the authorities about parents who spoke openly at home about anything that could be deemed antithetical to the Party.

For reward money paid by the State, for satisfying old feuds, and sometimes for making themselves feel they were actually helping the nation, neighbors informed on neighbors who were pregnant with forbidden second children or children out-of-wedlock, and those women were subjected to forced abortions and, if they were repeat offenders, were punished with sterilizations, not to mention crushing fines, loss of jobs and even the demolition of their homes and confiscation of their property and livestock. As a result, for over three decades, myriad millions of women went into hiding at relatives’ distant homes to safeguard their fetuses until delivery, and yet after delivery, those newborns were not legally recognized as people by the government and not entitled to any of the legal rights of citizens. I, too, had suffered for the illegal act of trying to bring a new soul into the world.

Neighbors informed on Christian or Muslim or other devout neighbors who were praying in family-style churches and mosques and groups not officially registered with the government, and innocent people were accused of belonging to “evil sects.” Any religious group that acted outside of the government’s total and exclusive control was branded an evil sect.

Workers informed on co-workers who dared to comment about government corruption, and accused them of defaming the Party and its loyal cadres. People who dared to file letters complaining about official corruption with bureaus throughout the country that, in fact, were tasked with investigating corruption, ironically often found themselves as the cruel victims of the very cadres whom they had reported. Public security organs detained, interrogated, beat and fined countless unfortunate victims of all sorts alleged wrongdoing, and even after release, the persecution did not end. The police and community cadres would continue to monitor the victims’ every movement and communication, sometimes doing it themselves and sometimes paying thugs and hooligans to harass their hapless targets. Victims were often labeled as either willing or innocent dupes of “Western forces,” yet victims they nonetheless became.

Journalists who strove to investigate and report on sensitive issues in society, business, politics, entertainment—you name it—along with all the lawyers who were committed to helping the victims of the Party machine, could be seized and imprisoned on trumped-up charges of stirring up trouble, disturbing the social order, subverting the Party and Government, spying for foreign entities, and a host of arbitrarily Party-sanctioned paranoic reasons that were nonsensical but were considered as challenges to the State’s totalitarian order. The slightest whisper of opposition to the Party and its officials and its policies could end one’s career, social standing, and even physical well-being. The various and competing security organs had vast and nebulous powers that they exercised in the nominal protection of public order and social harmony. All sorts of people—the rich and poor alike—were “disappeared” and placed in long-term detention in “black jails” or other detention centers, sometimes close to home, sometimes hundreds of miles from home. Elimination of the benefits of citizenship could be stripped from one’s entire family, for the long arm of the Party grasped the aged and the youth alike in its merciless, steel grip, and everyone in the family could be tainted by the victim’s bad record.

And yet, this was nothing new. Feudalism had morphed into toxic totalitarianism. It was our Chinese tradition, thousands of years old, enmeshed in our cultural DNA, unchanged and unlikely to change. I had hoped never to face it again.

Just when I was becoming confident in my new American life of safety and hope for a good future based on my own hard work, after escaping from the chaos and amorality of the past, my son and Harry had to upset everything. I had a sinking feeling that this problem they had chosen to delve into would engulf us in a tsunami of trouble.

G88, published by Bilbo Books Publishing