Feiying Pagoda, was carved in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). During the Song Dynasty (960-1279) it was encased in another wooded pagoda. Heavily damaged during the Cultural Revolution.
He takes me to his home, a spartan two bedroom afair with an outdoor shower. "I really want to tell you many things," he tells me, "since you are the first American I have ever met." He tells me about his girlfriend and how he wants to marry her, but his responsibilities to the family means he must first earn sufficient money to sustain his family. His family was once rich, he says. In fact, they were weathy landowners and owned much of the area near and around Huzhou. When the communists came to power of couse, it was all confiscated and his family had to pretend that they were in complete agreement or else they would be imprisoned or shot. He says that he has something to show me and leads me to an old-fashioned roll-up desk.
My newfound friend in Huzhou (holding my Lonely Planet guidebook)
He pulls out a drawer and deftly removes a false panel from the bottom of the drawer. Inside is an old weathered photograph. The sepia toned portrait shows a family of 30-odd people dressed in Qing dynasty finery. "This is my great grandfather," he says pointing to what looks like a Mandarin scholar. Under the photo is the very silk robe that his grandfather wore in the photo. Its yellow coloring is fading with age. "We have been hiding this for 50 years," he tells me. Beneath that is a recent text book about Ancient Greece and the history of democracy, printed in English nontheless. I didn't ask him where he got it. He says he has read it many times, although he doesn't speak English so I assume someone has helped him with it.
Korean war era Chinese jet
He goes on to tell me that he has nothing but contempt for his government and for communism in particular. (As if to drive the point home, he takes me to the stone Feiying pagoda the next day and shows me how the Red Brigade chisled the heads off thousands of carved figures on the centuries old structure during the Cultural Revolution). "Democracy is a superior form of government and look how advanced the countries are who practice it." I simply can't disagree with him. "And it's not fair that you can travel the world and I cannot. That is my dream."
Then the bombshell. He tells me he travelled to Beijing in the spring of '89 to participate in the student protests at Tiananmen Square.
He insists that despite what everyone is told, people were killed by the PLA during the crackdown. In fact, he witnessed several deaths. I tell him that that information is widely known outside of China, and he can scarcely believe it. In those pre-internet days, how could he possibly know what the outside world knows? I show him my Lonely Planet guide book which has a brief sysnopsis of the protests and crackdown. I translate it to him line for line. He gets more and more excited (and agitated) with each sentence...it's like he can't get enough. "Yes", he says, "Your book is correct. I tried to leave after returning that summer. I flew to Yunnan and traveled across the only border that would let me bribe them across to Burma at Ruili.
That's where I bought these blue jeans". He points to his pants with considerable pride. Come to think of it, until now I have yet to see a pair anywhere in this country. "I came back because that country has more problems than we do."
I can't remember much more of our conversations, but we talked endlessly for days about this and that. He took me around his town in his white pick-up truck which he was so proud to own. His family's connections and business acumen, even under the semi-strict communist oversight of 1992, have put him in an enviable position around town. Owns his own house and car at the age of only 23. Before I depart for Shanghai, I promise to send his story to Chinese-speaking members of my church so that perhaps some day they can contact him and help him immigrate. I'm well aware that there is little I can do in this regard, and doubt they can do much either. I often wonder how he fares today, and wish that we had met when the internet had been around so I could re-contact him. For all I know, he may today be one of China's new millionaires.