This is a true and honest account of the life of LIN Xiangbei, an ordinary Chinese man from Sichuan Province, who celebrated 100 years of age this year, according to the Chinese custom of celebrating a man's birthday early. LIN documents his passion for the ideals of Communism and the tumultuous changes that China has undergone within the last century.
LIN was born in 1918 into a salt merchant family in declining circumstances. His mother died a year after his birth and his father left to pursue his own dreams. LIN's grandmother initially brought him up and then he was fostered in his aunt's family, where he was looked down upon for being an 'orphan'. However, this helped form his unyielding and indomitable character and stimulated a resolution in him to work hard and be a success in everything he did in his life. Above all, he wanted his grandmother, aunt and father to be proud of him.
LIN's father's reasons for leaving the family were manifold. He couldn't bear to watch his two older brothers sink into the clutches of opium and squander what was left of the family fortune; he was prevented from marrying the girl who was carrying his child because she was from the 'servant class'; and his own vision of a 'new' China was forming where there would be a fairer, more equal society doing away with the feudal system. He returned a few years later, having become a Regimental Officer and loyal follower of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, to take LIN Xiangbei to live with him in the army barracks. LIN's father was blunt, honest and utterly incorruptible which undoubtedly led to many ups and downs. During a dark period in his life, LIN's father met an extraordinary woman, Chen Lianshi, who brought a light into their lives and set them on a different path – the path to Communism.
Chen Lianshi came from a wealthy scholarly family. In 1923 she married a young radical, who was well below her family status, and was subsequently disowned by her family. They had two children. The young couple became Communists and led 'The Huayang Mountain Guerilla Force', whose aim was to overthrow the Sichuan Warlords. When her husband was betrayed, executed and decapitated, Lianshi vowed to their people that she would lead them and carry on the fight to the end of their days together. She became known as 'The Double Gun Woman'. LIN's father loved and admired Lianshi, but she would not go back on her vow of fidelity to her dead husband. Instead, they became in-laws and in this way their lives were entwined until LIN's father's sudden death.
It was a hard-fought struggle for Communism which culminated in the 'Liberation', but then came the dark, frightening, confusing years of The Cultural Revolution. Lianshi was prosecuted for being a bandit. LIN was accused of being too 'rightist' and, over a period of twenty years, he was in and out of labour camps. Whereas his wife, (Lianshi's daughter), was prosecuted for being the daughter of a bandit and was also sent to labour camps. Their surviving six children were often left to fend for themselves.
This memoir seeks to show the passion and commitment of a group of ordinary people for their beliefs in the fundamental principles of Communism and their courage in defending it. It shows, through the many years of hardship, their spirit, their happiness and sorrow, their anger for the betrayals and injustices and, in the end, their forgiveness.
By mid-winter of 1933 the Nationalists and Communists had broken their treaty and were back to fighting each other again.
One day Father was summoned to Governor Li’s office for an emergency meeting. Governor Li was pacing up and down. He immediately confided in Father about how worried he was as to how he could best protect YunYang town, because he had been informed that the Communist Red Army Fourth Section had fought their way into Sichuan like an army of red ants. They had already occupied the north of Sichuan and were continuing to take other areas. The head of the Warlords, Liu Xiang, had already launched two hundred thousand troops to fight the Red Army coming into his eastern region of Sichuan. The order had been sent to all local Governors that their own forces needed to be prepared for a defensive fight.
Governor Li had decided to set up a special ‘Defence Headquarters’ and he wanted Father to help him with this task. Even those people who hated Father knew that he was the right man for the job. Governor Li wanted to appoint Father as the Chief Commander presiding over five other military officers, who had all worked for Father in the past.
Father was a Nationalist at that time, but during his time in the Military Academy he had been very impressed by two of his lecturers, Zhude and Chenyi, who were Communists. Since then he had made quite a few friends who were also Communists and he thought highly of them too. At this stage then, he was uncomfortable to be sent to fight against the Communists and he firmly refused the proffered position. He told the Governor that even General Chiang Kai-Shek’s eight million troops had failed to conquer them, so who was he and what could he do against them?
One of Father’s friends, ZhaoWei, who was already a committed Communist, came to see him with the proposition that Father should accept the new post. He said to him:
“You should have a clear understanding about this. This fight against the Red Army is really a power struggle between Chiang Kai-shek and the Warlords and your duty, as you’ve been told it, is to defend YunYang town. What would happen if you found that you were not able to sustain a defence? You would have to run - you would have to withdraw your troops. How and when to withdraw would be crucial and we could tell you this nearer the time. Think about it, if you don’t go to the frontline then someone else will and they may not have the citizens’ best interests at heart and might leave them to suffer. You should take this post and we will be here to help you”.
Father listened and ruminated on it and finally decided to accept the position. He went to see Governor Li to lay out before him his suggestions and plans:
“The Communist Red Army is a well-trained and tough army. Against them our small County Force would be defeated just as easily as dashing eggs on stone, so what we need to do is quickly increase our numbers with a Volunteer Army. I will start recruitment and I may also be able to arrange some local contribution of guns and ammunition to bolster what the government need to provide. Most importantly you will have to cover the military expenses. I know that you are normally obliged to pay a tax of 30,000 Yuan to Liu Xiang, but you, as the local Governor, could tell him that you need this money to organize the Defence Force.”
Governor Li was thrilled about Father’s suggestions, as he had been getting increasingly distressed and anxious about how to deal with the situation and he kept on saying:
“Good idea, excellent. I knew you were right man for this job - the older the ginger, the spicier it is, eh! I will do whatever you say. You appoint the Captain of the Volunteer Army and gather the forces together, and you will be the Chief Commander who takes care of everything.”
The Defence Army Headquarters was swiftly set-up in Narrow Gate, a smaller town near YunYang. Soon they had gathered together about eight hundred young men from the region to form the Volunteer Army.
These people are helping to fund Xiangbei.