Selected Modern Chinese Essays: Honest Poverty

◎Fang Zhimin

I have been engaged in the revolutionary struggle for more than a decade. During these long militant years, I have lived a plain life with no luxuries to speak of. Millions of dollars passed through my hands, but I always saw to it that every single cent of the money raised for the revolution was spent for no other purposes. This may sound like a miracle or an exaggeration to Kuomintang VIPs. Self-discipline and self-sacrifice, however, are the virtue characteristic of a Communist. Therefore, should anyone inquire of me about my personal savings, let him read the following amusing episode:

On the day of my capture — a most inauspicious day it was — two Kuomintang soldiers discovered me in a wood. Sizing me up, they thought they had come upon a windfall and started making a frantic body search, hopefully to find on me hundreds of silver dollars or some jewellery like gold bracelets or rings. They frisked me from top to toe and passed their hands over everything on me from the collar of my jacket to the soles of my socks, but, contrary to their expectation, they found nothing at all, not even a single copper, except a watch and a fountain pen. They were exasperated, suspecting that I had my money hidden somewhere and refused to give it up. One of the two men had in his left hand a wooden-handled grenade. He pulled out the cord from inside the wooden handle and moved his legs one step apart as if he was about to throw the grenade. Glowering at me ferociously, he threatened loudly,

“Out with your money quick, or you die!”

“Hey!” I said drily with a faint smile. “Don’t you put on such nasty airs! True I haven’t got a single copper with me. You’re barking up the wrong tree to seek a fortune from me.”

“Shit! Nobody can ever believe a big shot like you ain’t got no money!” the soldier with the grenade remained wholly incredulous.

“No money?” the other soldier joined in. “Impossible! It must be hidden somewhere. No fooling an old hand like me.” Meanwhile, he bent low to pass his hand again meticulously over every nook and corner of my clothes and the crotch of my trousers, still holding out high hopes of making a new discovery.

“You should believe me and stop messing around!” I explained again. “Unlike your Kuomintang officials who’re rolling in money, I’m really penniless. We join the revolution not for personal gain.”

Finally, when they knew for certain that there was no money on me, they gave up the body search. Nevertheless, they lowered their heads to scan here and there the place where I had hidden myself, but again in vain. How frustrated they must have felt! The soldier holding the grenade pushed the cord back into its wooden handle, and turned round to scramble for my watch and fountain pen. The two men, however, settled their dispute by agreeing to divide the money equally between them after selling the spoils. They eyed me up and down with suspicion and amazement before barking out in chorus, “Come along!”

Dear readers, maybe you wish to know if I have any private property at home. Just a minute! Let me see … Ah, here it is, but nothing much though. I have left with my wife for safekeeping a few changes of used underwear and a few pairs of socks with mended soles, all of which I used to wear last summer. She has now put them away in a remote mountain valley to prevent them from being stolen in case of Kuomintang attack, so that I may wear them again this summer. These are all the property I have to my name. But wouldn’t the declaration of my “family treasures” make myself an object of lively ridicule to the rich?

To remain honest though poor, to live a clean and simple life — that is what we revolutionaries count on to overcome innumerable difficulties!