• Time: Thursday, July 7th, 1983.
• Place: Siping Teachers' College (now Siping University), Northeast China.
• Dramatis Personæ:
Myself: John Derbyshire, 38 years old, Lecturer in English at the college since the previous October.
Rosie Qi: 20 years old, a fourth-year student at the college, just about to graduate.
Mike Potter: Another young Englishman who had joined the college staff a few weeks previously. Mike and I were the only two foreigners at the college.
"Leaders": A hierarchy of Communist Party officials who ran the college and supervised the teaching staff. I refer to them generically in the narrative as "Secretary So-and-so," though they all had more precise titles indicating their rank in the Party hierarchy. Their chief, Party Secretary for the whole college, was Secretary Kang Zi-zhong. The college Principal was named Fang Jia-lin. He seems to have been outside the hierarchy of "leaders," but may have been a Party member none the less, I don't know.
David Wang: My "minder": A twentysomething recent graduate of the college, now on the administrative staff, assigned to help me and interpret for me (my Chinese is not very good), but also to report all that I said and did to the "leaders."
• What has gone before: Until Mike Potter's arrival in May, I had been the only foreigner at the college. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge I was the only foreigner for seventy miles around before Mike showed up, although a delegation of Japanese businessmen had passed through the town hotel while I was living there. That had been months earlier, during my first few weeks in the town, before I had been assigned a room at the college.
I had been courting Rosie for some weeks prior to the events narrated here. It was no mean achievement to have done so. Discipline at the college was strict: doubly so regarding friendships between male lecturers and female students, trebly so where I was concerned. Courting Rosie had involved endless elaborate subterfuges. The one I was feeling most proud of having executed had been an ingenious ruse to persuade David Wang to surrender his key to my office, thereby eliminating the danger of him catching us by surprise.
We had also had the assistance of one student I trusted, a classmate of Rosie's — our go-between. 伐柯如何? 匪斧不克. 取妻如何? 匪媒不得. (Book of Odes I.xv):
In hewing [the wood for] an axe-handle, how do you proceed?(Go-betweens in old China were older married women or widows.)
Without [another] axe it cannot be done.
In taking a wife, how do you proceed?
Without a go-between it cannot be done.
Our courting was very innocent by Western standards. The aggregate time we had spent together out of sight of others in those few weeks of subterfuges and stratagems was about two hours. We had sat holding hands together, exchanged three or four kisses, and embraced chastely once or twice at parting. The danger of course made it all incomparably thrilling.
Now it was the very end of the school year. This was Thursday; Saturday would be Graduation Day for the Fourth Year — Rosie's year. My courtship campaign had advanced to the point where she had agreed to marry me, assuming I could figure out how to arrange it once I got back to England.
This morning, July 7th, as the other students were packing to go home and the rest of the college was preparing for Saturday's graduation ceremony, we snatched a half hour together in my office. At one point our go-between joined us. He brought a camera, took some black-and-white photographs of the two of us, and gave me the film to develop.
I was feeling as the general of an army must feel after conducting an exhausting series of strategic master strokes: pleased with myself, to the point of … over-confidence.
• The narrative:
Rosie was to come to the office again that evening. I got there about half an hour before she was due and spent the time tidying up and setting out refreshments. I'd developed a technique of chilling tea by placing pans of it in my bath-tub and surrounding them with ice-cold water from the faucets. Now I set out two flasks of tea, one chilled, one hot, on the little table between my two armchairs. Alongside them I put glasses and cups and two bottles of Chinese fruit cordial, which is so sweet, even when diluted, that you have to sip it. Among the potted plants on the longer table down the center of the room I arranged plastic cakestands of peanuts, candy, and sunflower seeds. Mike Potter had lent me his big stereo cassette player and some tapes, mostly mellow stuff from the sixties.
My office had two windows on the two sides of a corner. The front window looked east over the college forecourt, the side window north along the front of the building, which was all classrooms. The nearest of these classrooms belonged to some fourth year students. There were several of them in there as I fussed around putting my room in order, and they were making a lot of noise. Most of it was just shouting, but occasionally they'd smash something. The fourth years had been smashing up their classrooms all week; a phenomenon which had alarmed me at first but which everyone, including the leaders, seemed to take for granted. I suppose the students felt free to work off their hatred of the place now that they were on the point of leaving it. One of the classrooms, I remember, had a large mirror, in which I'd once caught Rosie admiring herself. The mirror had been a prize for some group activity — the choir concert I'd participated in, perhaps. Characters were painted down the side of it extolling the students' love of their "mother school." By the middle of that last week the mirror had been broken into fine splinters. It had first been smashed with a blow, then further reduced by stamping on the pieces.
I thought of closing the windows to cut down the noise from that classroom, but it was a warm evening and the room needed air. At seven thirty Rosie appeared. We sat together on the sofa. She was unreservedly at ease with me by this time; we talked and laughed very freely. I played some Simon and Garfunkel, which she allowed was "not bad." The classroom next door was soon quiet. Around half past eight someone knocked lightly on my door. I'd locked it, of course. I put a finger to Rosie's lips to hush her until the caller gave up. She said she should go, but by dint of some very abject pleading I kept her with me another half hour. When she was ready to leave I walked her to the door, took her in my arms one last time, and checked that the coast was clear before she slipped out. It was a perfect day, perfect.
On Friday morning Mike Potter and I took breakfast together in my dormitory room. I was still intoxicated from the previous evening, and could talk of nothing but Rosie and the plans we had made. Mike was rather amused. He sat through it all very patiently, bless him, only inserting a few words of congratulation here and there.
Suddenly the door flew open and there was a student in the room. It was one of the decent students: I mean, one who didn't snitch to the leaders about my words and movements. His hair was still wet from the morning wash, I recall. On his face was an expression I hope never to see again, an expression that said with all the force of a scream: Something terrible has happened. He was looking at me and trembling slightly.
Mike took everything in at once. He stood up, excused himself, and left the room. By now the student was sitting in one of my armchairs, elbows on knees, head in hands. I went over and sat on the corner of the bed, opposite him.
"What is it? What's happened?"
"Last night. You were seen. With Rosie."
"Some students saw you. They called the leaders. The leaders saw you. With Rosie. Kissing Rosie."
"How? How did they see me?"
"You left a window open. The reflection in the window. The students in the classroom could see you. See into your office. The window worked like a mirror."
"After Rosie left your office the leaders arrested her. They questioned her."
"Where is she now?"
"In the dormitory. They released her. But I don't know what will happen." He jumped to his feet and ran to the door. "Nobody must see me here. I must go."
"Hey, wait a minute. What should I do? What should I do?"
"Do nothing! Pretend everything's normal."
He disappeared. I sat there stunned. Outside it was the morning of a beautiful day. I could hear students talking and laughing on the forecourt below my window.
I walked the hundred yards from the dormitories to the main college building and went to my office. The third year exam paper was on my desk, half composed. I tried to work on it for a while, but of course could do nothing. Students drifted in and out. The fourth year were all due to graduate the following day, so they were milling around in the classrooms and corridors trading assignment stories.
(In the system in place at that time, after graduation the students were assigned to a job by the provincial education authorities. These assignments — fen-pei in Chinese — were an obsession with the fourth year students in the weeks before graduation. A good assignment was one in your home town, near your family, or else at a prestigious high school or college; a bad assignment was in some remote coal-mining town or peasant commune far from your home. In theory it all depended on your college grades. In practice a student with a politically well-connected father, or whose family could pay a hefty bribe, got a good assignment, regardless of grades. The corruption was flagrant; I witnessed many instances. Taking advantage of your father's position, or paying a bribe, was called "going through the back door," zou hou-mer.)
I got morsels of news. Rosie was walking around freely. She'd told the leaders that I'd only been saying goodbye to her according to English custom. I thought this showed great presence of mind on her part; but would the leaders swallow it? Quite possibly they would. You could never underestimate the ignorance of those leaders. To them, foreigners were practically extraterrestrial. If Rosie had told them that the normal method of saying farewell among English people was to stand on one's head and clap one's feet together, they'd probably have believed her.
After an hour or so I went next door to Mike's office. Mike is one of those Englishmen with whom it is a point of honor not to take anything very seriously. To have such a person around at such a time was a godsend. I believe I would not have survived those few days without him. It wasn't that he did anything to help — what could he do? — or that he showed any extraordinary powers of consolation. It was only that he was English and sane, while everyone else for seventy miles around was Chinese and mad. That was how it seemed at the time.
Oh, the students were marvellous, and tried to help in their own way, and did help; yet they were Chinese, and that made them part of it. I could not forget, either, that it had been students who had informed on us. That wasn't as bad as it might seem. In a totalitarian state, there are times when it is dangerous not to inform. There had been several students in that next-door classroom the previous evening, including one who was actually a Party member and another who informed to the leaders on his classmates and teachers every chance he got. Whatever the decent students felt, they couldn't do a thing. Even so, we had been informed on, by people who would smile and wish me good day if I met them.
Later in the morning there was a new source of excitement. Fourth years came running into Mike's office to find their friends (there were a number in there with us). They would talk with great agitation in Chinese for a moment, at a speed too fast for me to follow, then dash out. What was happening? I asked one.
"A commission has come from Changchun [the provincial capital] to investigate back doors. The authorities say there should be no back doors in student assignments."
I said I thought that this was very good news. It showed the authorities were concerned with the problem.
"Yes. Several students want to address this commission. The leaders are very worried. Perhaps they have no time to think of other things."
That was how the students had been speaking to me all morning. Nothing direct, from fear of who might be listening, but getting the message through anyway. Chinese people are very skillful at that sort of thing. Of course they are! I hoped the commission would give us a breathing space, at least; that the leaders might think that sufficient unto the day was the evil thereof, and that I might have time to open a channel of communication with Rosie.
The commission left that afternoon. I was back in my own office. Some students came and told me about it. "Well," I asked, "Is Secretary Kang in jail?"
They laughed. "Of course not. The commission didn't do anything."
I'd been nine months in that godforsaken country, but I was still capable of being shocked. "They didn't do anything? But this college is full of back doors! It's been the sole topic of conversation for weeks! Didn't the students tell them?"
"Yes, we told them everything."
"Then why didn't they criticize the leaders?"
"Because this commission was set up by the Party. All our back doors are in the Party. So of course they couldn't do anything."
The student laughed. "From this you can understand something about our socialist system."
Indeed. I hadn't really imagined that an old fox like Secretary Kang would get his tail clipped by any mere commission, but I'd thought they might criticize. Apparently they went away perfectly satisfied. Leaving by the back door, perhaps.
Compare the situation two hundred years ago when a French visitor inquired of a Chinese government official whether something couldn't be done about corruption among the mandarins. The official replied:
It is impossible. The Emperor himself can do nothing. The evil is too widespread. He will, no doubt, send to the scene of these disorders mandarins clothed with all his authority; but they will only commit still greater exactions, and the inferior mandarins in order to be left undisturbed will offer them presents. The Emperor will be told that all is well, while everything is really wrong, and while the poor people are being oppressed …
To be fair to the Qian-long Emperor, his dynasty had taken a hundred and fifty years to reach that stage of putrefaction; when I arrived in Siping the People's Republic was just thirty-three years old.
Later in the afternoon a much nastier piece of news came down the grapevine. Rosie had been pulled in for questioning again by the leaders.
Do nothing. Act normal. Everything will be all right. I sat there at my desk choking with rage and frustration, waiting for more news. What I hoped for was that they would call me in; but they had no intention of involving me at all. From their point of view, a Chinese citizen had behaved disgracefully and had to be dealt with. That was all. The foreigner? Well, what can you expect from foreigners? They're only like animals, after all.
There was no more news. I left my office late in the evening. Walking across the front of the main college building in the darkness, I passed a small group of people going in. There was Secretary Dong, one of the fourth year students, and three men I didn't recognize. Of these three strangers, two were young and fit-looking, with buzz cuts; the third was middle-aged, stocky, and bespectacled. Secretary Dong stared through me. The three strangers favored me with brief glances, then went back to their conversation. The student, however, threw me a bleak look, a look of pain and hopelessness. I knew that student was a particularly close friend of Rosie's; she used to call him "elder brother." At once I knew that something horrible was happening.
Should I have acted? Perhaps; although, looking back, I believe nothing would have made any difference. Remember that I had been getting whispered advice the whole day long. I had heard all the slogans, all the pitiful slogans of ancient slavery: Don't make trouble! Turn a big matter into a small matter. When Mount Tai collapses in front of your eyes, don't change color … I don't think anyone told me to bend like grass in the wind, but I wouldn't have been surprised if they had. I was assured, again and again, that anything I did would only make things worse for Rosie. If I made trouble, I was told, the leaders would just expel me. I thought this was certainly true. That Friday had been a very long day indeed, but at least I was still there. And Saturday was the day of the graduation ceremony. They'd have to let Rosie attend that.
Saturday was bright and warm. The graduation ceremony was to begin at eight a.m. Mike Potter and I went into the auditorium and sat with some English Department students about halfway down. Up on the stage Secretary Lü was fussing with a microphone. Students were still coming in. I looked around, mentally checking off the English Department. Most of them were there, already seated. There was no sign of Rosie.
"Where's Rosie Qi?" I asked the student beside me.
"Her father came for her last night."
"What? Why? "
"Take her home. They won't allow her to attend the ceremony."
"Have they left yet?"
"I don't know."
I jumped out of my seat and ran from the auditorium. Halfway up the stairs I met a group of fourth years going down for the ceremony. I addressed the one with the best English. I knew that if I accosted the leaders by myself they would just pretend not to understand my Chinese.
"Jonathan, I need an interpreter urgently. Are you willing to do it for me?"
"Yes," he said at once.
"It may make trouble for you. If you're not willing, don't do it."
He looked at me, then at his classmates, then back to me. "Why should there be trouble? It's no crime to help a teacher."
He was saying a great deal more than he was saying, as we all knew. These fourth years were among the first college students admitted by competitive examination since the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). They included some mature students, like Jonathan, who'd been through the CR, then out in the world working before entering college. Snowflakes they weren't.
Jonathan followed me up to the third floor. Coming along the corridor there I saw Secretary Liang. I went up to him, my volunteer interpreter close behind me. Secretary Liang stopped. He watched me impassively as I approached.
"Tell him I want a meeting with the leaders. Immediately. Very urgent."
Jonathan told him. Liang just stared at me fishily for a few beats. Then quite suddenly he switched me off. I mean, he just stopped paying any attention to me at all. This is a rather alarming trick that Chinese people pull on you when things have gotten so bad, the whole "face" system has broken down. Secretary Liang was being as rude to me as a Chinese person knows how to be. He turned on Jonathan.
"So you're mixed up in this, are you? Fuck your mother, you son of a bitch! We know how to deal with you! …" He went on like this for some time, cursing and snarling. He'd picked the wrong man, though. Jonathan started yelling right back at him. Pretty soon they were having a good old Chinese donnybrook, fucking each other's mothers, grandmothers, and female antecedents all the way back to the Age of Philosophers. (I later learned that Jonathan had been one of those students who had testified to the back door commission. This undoubtedly explained much of Secretary Liang's wrath.)
In the middle of all this David Wang appeared at the head of the stairs and headed towards us. Secretary Liang switched me back on. "Here's your official interpreter," he spat out at me in Chinese. "Why don't you use him?"
"BECAUSE I DON'T TRUST HIM!" I screamed back in Chinese.
David certainly heard this, but pretended not to notice. "What's the matter?" he asked.
"I want a meeting with the leaders. Urgently."
David had a short exchange with Secretary Liang. "He says it's not possible. All the leaders are in the auditorium for the graduation ceremony."
"No they're not. I just came from there. Only Secretary Lü is in there."
There was another exchange. "The leaders will meet with you after the ceremony."
Secretary Liang was looking at me with frank hatred. "Look," I said through clenched teeth, "tell this turkey that I'm going to my office now. Tell him I'd be most grateful if one of the leaders could spare five minutes to come and see me before the ceremony. Say it very politely. I'd deeply appreciate it, that sort of thing."
David started in on this. Deliberately, without waiting for him to finish, I walked off to my office.
Five minutes later David showed up with Comrade Lou. This was another calculated insult. Lou was the lowest-level person they could have sent without rousing the cleaners. He wasn't even a proper Party Secretary, more like a Party Secretary's gofer. He worked as a factotum in the college administration and he was very, very stupid. It wasn't just that he was ignorant. All those Party types were as ignorant as snails, but many of them had a sort of criminal cunning. Lou didn't even have that. He was a moron. Because of this, I disliked him least of all the leaders. He was too thick to be really evil.
Lou sat on the sofa and asked me very pleasantly if there was anything he could do to help me.
"I want to see Qi Hong-mei. If her father wants to be present at our meeting, I don't mind."
Lou pretended to look puzzled. To be fair, he may actually have been puzzled. He usually was. "I don't know if they're still here," he said.
"If they are still here I want to meet with them. If they've gone back to Changchun [Rosie's home town], I want to go there and meet with them. I'll pay my own fare."
Poor Lou scratched his head, grinning uncertainly. He started talking to David. Had they left? Don't know, not sure. Who's dealing with it? David said he didn't know anything about it. Go to Changchun? Lou didn't think that would be allowed. They waffled on like this for some time. It dawned on me that I was being stalled. I tried desperately to think of some card I could play, some way to get the initiative. Only one thing came to mind.
All the time I was at the college I'd been getting The Spectator by airmail subscription from England. In March they'd published an article I'd sent them about North Korea, the fruit of an afternoon's loafing in the staff periodicals room with nothing in English to read but the Pyongyang Times. Not only had The Spectator published my article, they'd made it the week's cover story. This had impressed the English Department no end. They'd all learned about Addison and Steele as part of the Literature course, so they knew that The Spectator was an ancient and revered literary institution; required reading for all leading cadres in England, no doubt.
I addressed David. "As you know, David, I sometimes do journalism for newspapers and magazines in England. Please tell your leaders that I know everything about them, all their back doors and front doors and side doors. I have made a very reasonable request: to meet with one of my students, in the presence of her father if necessary. If the leaders won't agree to this then I shall do everything I can to tell people in the West what life is like for ordinary people in China, using this college as an example. The leaders in Peking pay attention to what is published abroad about your country. If they see what I've written it will make trouble for all of you here."
All right, it was arrogant; but what else could I do? It was my only move. I had to get some leverage. Naturally I didn't believe what I was saying. The goings-on at a small-town Chinese teachers' college were not going to strike lightning through the British press, I knew. A thousand-word feature in the Sunday Express would be the most I could hope for, wedged between the more lurid murders and the latest celebrity divorce. None of this mattered. The story didn't need to be plausible to me, only to them. I had to play on their fear of Trouble. I knew very well what they were up to: "making a big matter into a small matter."
I don't know what Comrade Lou made of it. He got to his feet and said he'd consult. We saw him out.
"Look," I said to David when Lou had gone, "can't you get me a real leader? Lou's no use. The guy's an idiot."
David chose this, of all times, to have a pouting fit. "I don't know why you ask me to help you," he said, "seeing that you don't trust me."
I told him to go and boil his head. He left. Mike Potter came in. "What's happening? I just got thrown out of the graduation ceremony." He told me that a few minutes after I'd left the auditorium one of the Party Secretaries had come in and told Mike that foreigners weren't wanted at the ceremony. The man had been rude, said Mike. It was the first time anyone had been plainly rude to him in China.
"Stick around," I said. "You're going to see more Chinese people being rude in the next few hours than you will in the rest of your life."
Mike went to his office, saying he'd be there if I needed him. I went to the door of my own office and stood there vaguely, looking towards the stairs. A student came out from one of the fourth year classrooms. I called him over.
"Do you know if Rosie and her father have left yet?"
"No, they haven't. They're still here."
"Are you sure?"
"Sure. Mr. Qi is in Secretary Dong's office." He pointed at a door in the far corridor.
I walked over and knocked on the door. "Come in," called out Secretary Dong. I opened the door wide. Secretary Dong was sitting at his desk. Across from him was the middle-aged bespectacled guy from the previous evening.
"Sorry," I said, and shut the door. I went back to my own office, closed the door, and punched a finger-hole in the paper covering the door panel. Presently the two men came out of Dong's office and walked off along the corridor. I came out of my office and followed them at a distance. They went down the stairs at the end, then walked back along the equivalent corridor on the ground floor. Finally they stopped at the front entrance of the college and stood there talking. My plan had been to follow them to Rosie. Now I didn't know whether to wait for them to move off or to approach them right there.
While I was dithering David came down the stairs. He called to me. I turned to greet him. When I turned back, Dong was standing at the entrance alone, admiring the forecourt. Mr. Qi was nowhere to be seen. For an older guy, he certainly could move. I ran back into the lobby. Dong was heading up the stairs as fast as he could. Fortunately this wasn't very fast: he was short and fat. I caught him up at the second floor landing. David was right behind me.
"Secretary Dong, I want to meet with Qi Hong-mei and her father."
The bastard looked innocently at David. "Have they left yet? I don't know."
I turned to David. "For Christ's sake tell him to stop lying to me. I know they're here. I want to meet them. Is that unreasonable?"
Secretary Dong exchanged a few sentences with David.
"Secretary Dong says we can have a meeting after the ceremony."
Suddenly Dong looked at his wristwatch, said, "I have a meeting at nine," and scuttled off down the stairs. I let him go. I had the complete picture now. I knew they were stalling me until they could get Rosie out. Then they'd be able to smile at me sweetly and say: "Sorry. Everything is settled now."
I walked down the stairs and outside, to the college's main gate. I stood in the road outside the gate, and waited.
The gatehouse was being rebuilt. There were a lot of workmen about. There was also the usual crowd of idlers and starers that you get in any inhabited area of China. They stared. I waited.
After about five minutes I had a nasty thought. I guessed they'd sneak Rosie out in a car. Now, it was theoretically possible to leave the college grounds through the fields at the back. It would be a bumpy ride for a couple of miles, but then they'd reach the country road and be able to double back to Siping. How could I watch the back as well as the front?
I walked back to the gate. As I got there I saw Mike Potter in the distance, heading to the dormitories. I called, but he'd gone. I grabbed one of the bricklayers.
"There's a foreigner just gone up that way. Do you think you could fetch him here for me?"
The poor fellow gaped in amazement at the crazy foreigner with his clumsy Chinese. Then he shrugged and ambled off after Mike at a steady one mile per hour.
"Run!" I screamed. "It's IMPORTANT!"
The man stopped, turned, scratched his head, then set off again at the same speed as before.
I waited at the gate. A three-wheeler van came out loaded with students' luggage, headed for the town railroad station, no doubt. A little later another one came. After it had gone past I saw that there was a girl crouched in the back. I shouted, and started running after it. The girl turned and waved. It wasn't Rosie.
This last bit of action stirred the interest of the onlookers. There were twenty or thirty by now. Runners were despatched to bring friends and relatives to see the foreigner doing weird foreign stuff at the college gate.
My sluggish messenger reappeared with Mike. God knows how he'd communicated with him; Mike speaks no Chinese. I told Mike they were going to sneak Rosie out. I asked him to check the fields at the back, to see if there were any vehicles out there. He went off. I waited. The crowd stared.
At last, when I'd been outside the gate about half an hour, a military jeep came out. In the front, next to the driver, I saw Mr. Qi. I stepped into the middle of the road and put up a hand, signaling them to stop. The jeep was still in second. It slowed for a moment; then suddenly accelerated right at me.
I have no clear idea of what happened next. From the configuration we ended up in, I must have vaulted up onto the hood of the jeep as it came at me; but I have no recollection of deciding to do so, or of doing so. As a metaphysical friend observed after hearing the story: Sometimes your body has a mind of its own.
The jeep was an old Soviet-style model with a tarpaulin roof and wing mirrors out on metal struts at each side of the windshield. When I had finished doing whatever it was that I did, I was lying across the hood with my body at full length up against the windshield, holding on to one of the wing mirror struts. It was a stable position that I could have held indefinitely. The driver, having his view completely blocked by my person, had no choice but to stop. Looking into the jeep I could see Rosie on the back seat between the two younger strangers from the previous evening. Rosie was trying to cover her face with something. (It was her graduation photograph.)
All the men got out. Mr. Qi was cursing and stamping his foot. The other three — the driver and the two buzz cuts — stood back, uncertain what they should do. They hadn't had much experience of rogue foreigners, I guess.
I slid off the hood, perfectly unharmed — not a bruise, not a scratch, no thanks to the fool driving the jeep. (Rosie has told me that one of the buzz cuts had ordered him to speed up.) Ignoring the others, I went to Rosie, who was still sitting in the back of the jeep.
"Rosie, are you all right?"
The poor girl was terrified. She was visibly trembling, like a fever patient. "Go away!" she whispered. "Go away! You're making things even worse for me!"
I sat sideways in the front seat, leaning on the back of it to talk to her. She was shaking her head, saying: "Go away, please go away. Please!"
"Rosie, let's go to my office and talk — you, me, and your father. I'm sure your father will listen to reason."
"Oh no no, he won't. He hates you!"
"Hates me? Why does he hate me? He doesn't even know me."
"Because you're a foreigner. Don't you understand?"
"Come on, let me talk to him. I'm sure he'll listen. You can interpret so there's no misunderstanding."
"He won't, he won't. Oh please go away. Things will be very bad for me now."
Looking back on the incident, I suppose that what I ought to have been feeling at this point was guilt for having gotten Rosie into so much trouble by my carelessness. I am sorry to say that what I actually felt was more like irritation. By boldness and good luck I had seized the initiative; but of what use was it if Rosie wasn't going to co-operate? This was of course grossly unfair to Rosie, an unworldly young woman who had endured hours of being terrorized by authority figures with no-one to help or support her. I soon reflected thus, and felt properly ashamed of myself. In the moment, though, I was the one who had just escaped being run down by a military vehicle.
I tried to coax her out of the jeep, but she wouldn't come. I tried to soothe her, but she would not be soothed. She begged me to go. I told her that if she would only follow my lead I could manage everything. She would not believe me.
I stepped down. Standing by the back door, I looked at her. She was wearing a salmon-pink blouse with slacks of some pale pastel color and ankle-length nylon socks. She watched me back, her eyes dull with fear.
I went to the front of the jeep. Taking a key from my pocket, I kneeled down and started letting the air out of a tire.
One of the buzz cuts stepped forward. "Hey." He reached down to restrain me, then suffered an attack of uncertainty and hovered paralyzed for a moment. I knew, and he knew, and we each knew that the other knew, that if he touched me some invisible line would have been crossed, and we would be playing under different rules.
I stood back. "All right, go," I said. The buzz cuts went to the jeep. They had a discussion about the tire. "Drive slowly," said one, "It'll be all right." They got in. The driver got in. Mr. Qi, still cursing, followed them. I suddenly saw that he was scared, too. Rosie was staring straight ahead, not looking at me. They drove off on three and a half tires. Probably drive into a ditch, I thought as I turned to walk back to the main building. They might as well have done. I was past caring. The crowd of spectators parted to let me through. There were a hundred of them now, at least.
Halfway to the main building I met David Wang heading for the gate. He stopped and giggled nervously at me. "Is everything all right?"
"Sure," I said. "Everything's fine."
In the event Rosie's punishment was not too dire. She was one of the English Department's best students, and her father was a retired military officer and Party member. The punishment was, that her assignment was downgraded. She had originally been assigned to a very good college teaching job in her home town. Instead, she was given a job teaching high school at a chemical factory in grimy Jilin City, sixty miles away. Some of the college leaders had wanted worse for her; but a mandarin in the provincial education department, Secretary Ma, overruled them.
I of course suffered no real punishment. I was only required to do a self-criticism before the college leaders. I flatter myself I carried this off well, insisting that all the blame for the regrettable incident was mine, in hopes they would go easy on Rosie. From the leaders' side the main point of the self-criticism session was an opportunity to insist, loud and repeatedly, that there was no such thing as a "back door." Bu cun-zai! ("It doesn't exist!") roared Secretary Kang over and over again. Bu cun-zai! Bu cun-zai! I agreed heartily. Of course back doors didn't exist! Whether this helped or not, I really don't know. My self-criticism was posted on the college bulletin board for all to read.
Those black-and-white photographs we had taken that Thursday morning? I had destroyed the film: exposed it, then, to be quite sure, burned it in my dormitory room. It seemed necessary at the time, to protect Rosie. I regret it none the less.
I went back to England. Rosie and I soon got in touch, thanks to our go-between, who maintained contact with both of us. At first Rosie was in a state of despair. Our mail exchanges lapsed for a year or so. Then our go-between came to England as a student. He told me that Rosie was unhappy in her assignment, restless and regretful. Was I still willing to marry her? I said that I was. Rosie and I exchanged letters again. In the Fall of 1985, by which time I was doing contract work in New York City, we decided to get married. There was much paperwork to be done; but in August 1986 I went to China and we were married.
Rosie's father continued to put up resistance, but we won him round at last, and I came to like the old fellow. (He died in 2008.) I have ever since derived some amusement of the lower kind by telling fellow conservatives that my father-in-law, whom I liked and respected, was a member of the Chinese Communist Party and a Colonel in the People's Liberation Army, who fought on our enemy's side in the Korean War.
One other consequence of these events has been that my wife now has a gold standard for amatory devotion. When the strength of feelings between other couples we know is a subject of discussion, Rosie asks: "Yes, but would he jump up on a speeding jeep for her?"