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Chapter 2 Silent Spring

Novel:The Three-Bodyauthor:Cinxin Liu pubdate:2019-02-14 14:34

Chapter 2 Silent Spring
Two years later, the Greater Khingan Mountains
Following the loud chant, a large Dahurian larch, thick as the columns of the Parthenon, fell with a thump, and Ye Wenjie felt the earth quake.
She picked up her ax and saw and began to clear the branches from the trunk. Every time she did this, she felt as though she were cleaning the corpse of a giant. Sometimes she even imagined the giant was her father. The feelings from that terrible night two years ago when she cleaned her father's body in the mortuary would resurface, and the splits and cracks in the larch bark seemed to turn into the old scars and new wounds covering her father.
Over one hundred thousand people from the six divisions and forty- one regiments of the Inner Mongolia Production and Construction Corps were scattered among the vast forests and grasslands. When they first left the cities and arrived at this unfamiliar wilderness, many of the corps' "educated youths"—young college students who no longer had schools to go to—had cherished a romantic wish: When the tank clusters of the Soviet Revisionist Imperialists rolled over the Sino-Mongolian border, they would arm themselves and make their own bodies the first barrier in the Republic's defense. Indeed, this expectation
was one of the strategic considerations motivating the creation of the Production and Construction Corps.
But the war they craved was like a mountain at the other end of the grassland: clearly visible, but as far away as a mirage. So they had to content themselves with clearing fields, grazing animals, and chopping down trees.
Soon, the young men and women who had once expended their youthful energy on tours to the holy sites of the Chinese Revolution discovered that, compared to the huge sky and open air of Inner Mongolia, the biggest cities in China's interior were nothing more than sheep pens. Stuck in the middle of the cold, endless expanse of forests and grasslands, their burning ardor was meaningless. Even if they spilled all of their blood, it would cool faster than a pile of cow dung, and not be as useful. But burning was their fate; they were the generation meant to be consumed by fire. And so, under their chain saws, vast seas of forests turned into barren ridges and denuded hills. Under their tractors and combine harvesters, vast tracts of grasslands became grain fields, then deserts.
Ye Wenjie could only describe the deforestation that she witnessed as madness. The tall Dahurian larch, the evergreen Scots pine, the slim and straight white birch, the cloud-piercing Korean aspen, the aromatic Siberian fir, along with black birch, oak, mountain elm, Chosenia arbutifolia—whatever they laid eyes on, they cut down. Her company wielded hundreds of chain saws like a swarm of steel locusts, and after they passed, only stumps were left.
The fallen Dahurian larch, now bereft of branches, was ready to be taken away by tractor. Ye gently caressed the freshly exposed cross section of the felled trunk. She did this often, as though such surfaces were giant wounds, as though she could feel the trees pain. Suddenly, she saw another hand lightly stroking the matching surface of the stump a few feet away. The tremors in that hand revealed a heart that resonated with hers. Though the hand was pale, she could tell it belonged to a man.
She looked up. It was Bai Mulin. A slender, delicate man who wore glasses, he was a reporter for the Great Production News, the corps' newspaper. He had arrived the day before yesterday to gather news about her company. Ye remembered reading his articles, which were written in a beautiful style, sensitive and fine, ill suited to the rough-hewn environment.
"Ma Gang, come here," Bai called to a young man a little ways off.
Ma was barrel-chested and muscular, like the Dahurian larch that he had just felled. He came over, and Bai asked him, "Do you know how old this tree was?"
"You can count the rings." Ma pointed to the stump.
"I did. More than three hundred and thirty years. Do you remember how long it took you to saw through it?"
"No more than ten minutes. Let me tell you, I'm the fastest chain saw operator in the company. Whichever squad I'm with, the red flag for model workers follows me." Ma Gang's excitement was typical of most people Bai paid attention to. To be featured in the Great Production News would be a considerable honor.
"More than three hundred years! A dozen generations. When this tree was but a shrub, it was still the Ming Dynasty. During all these years, can you imagine how many storms it had weathered, how many events it had witnessed? But in a few minutes you cut it down. You really felt nothing?"
"What do you want me to feel?" Ma Gang gave a blank look. "It's just a tree. The only things we don't lack around here are trees. There are plenty of other trees much older than this one."
"It's all right. Go back to work." Bai shook his head, sat down on the stump, and sighed.
Ma Gang shook his head as well, disappointed that the reporter wasn't interested in an interview. "Intellectuals always make a fuss about nothing," he muttered. As he spoke, he glanced at Ye Wenjie, apparently including her in his judgment.
The trunk was dragged away. Rocks and stumps in the ground broke the bark in more places, wounding the giant body further. In the spot where it once stood, the weight of the fallen tree being dragged left a deep channel in the layers of decomposing leaves that had accumulated over the years. Water quickly filled the ditch. The rotting leaves made the water appear crimson, like blood.
"Wenjie, come and take a rest." Bai pointed to the empty half of the stump on which he was sitting. Ye was indeed tired. She put down her tools, came over, and sat down with Bai, back to back.
After a long silence, Bai blurted out, "I can tell how you're feeling. The two of us are the only ones who feel this way."
Ye remained silent. Bai knew that she likely wouldn't answer. She was a woman of few words, and rarely conversed with anyone. Some new arrivals even mistook her for a mute.
Bai went on talking. "I visited this region a year ago. I remember arriving around noon, and my hosts told me that we'd have fish for lunch.
I looked around the bark-lined hut and saw only a pot of water being boiled. No fish. Then, as soon as the water boiled, the cook went out with a rolling pin. He stood on the shore of the brook that passed before the hut, struck the water with the rolling pin a few times, and was able to drag a few big fish out of the water. . . . What a fertile place! But now, if you go look at that brook, it's just dead, muddy water in a ditch.
I really don't know if the Corps is engaged in construction or destruction."
"Where did you get thoughts like that?" Ye asked softly.
She did not express agreement or disagreement, but Bai was grateful that she had spoken at all. "I just read a book, and it really moved me. Can you read English?"
Ye nodded.
Bai took a book with a blue cover from his bag. He looked around to be sure no one was watching, and handed it to her. "This was published in 1962 and was very influential in the West."
Wenjie turned around on the stump to accept the book. Silent Spring, she read on the cover, by Rachel Carson. "Where did you get this?"
The book attracted the attention of the higher-ups. They want to distribute it to select cadres(*6) for internal reference. I'm responsible for translating the part that has to do with forests."
[Translator’s Note(*6): "Cadre." when used in the context of Chinese Communism, does not refer to a group, but to an individual official of the Party or the state.]
Wenjie opened the book and was pulled in. In a brief opening chapter, the author described a quiet town silently dying from the use of pesticides. Carson's deep concern suffused the simple, plain sentences.
"I want to write to the leadership in Beijing and let them know about the irresponsible behavior of the Construction Corps' Bai said.
Ye looked up from the book. It took a while for her to process his words. She said nothing and turned her eyes back to the page.
"Keep it for now, if you want to read it. But best be careful and don't let anyone see it. You know what they think of this kind of book . . ." Bai got up, looked around carefully once again, and left.
More than four decades later, in her last moments, Ye Wenjie would recall the influence Silent Spring had on her life.
The book dealt only with a limited subject: the negative environmental effects of excessive pesticide use. But the perspective taken by the author shook Ye to the core. The use of pesticides had seemed to Ye just a normal, proper—or, at least, neutral—act, but Carson's book allowed Ye to see that, from Nature's perspective, their use was indistinguishable from the Cultural Revolution, and equally destructive to our world. If this was so, then how many other acts of humankind that had seemed normal or even righteous were, in reality, evil?
As she continued to mull over these thoughts, a deduction made her shudder: Is it possible that the relationship between humanity and evil is similar to the relationship between the ocean and an iceberg floating on its surface? Both the ocean and the iceberg are made of the same material that the iceberg seems separate is only because it is in a different form. In reality, it is but a part of the vast ocean. .. .
It was impossible to expect a moral awakening from humankind itself just like it was impossible to expect humans to lift off the earth by pulling up on their own hair. To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race.
This thought determined the entire direction of Yes life.
Four days after receiving the book, Ye went to the company's guesthouse, where Bai was living, to return the book. Ye opened the door and saw that Bai was lying on the bed, exhausted and covered by wood shavings and mud. When Bai saw Ye, he struggled to get up."Did you work today?" Ye asked.
I've been here with the company for so long. I can't just walk around
all day doing nothing. Have to participate in labor. That's the spirit of the revolution, right? Oh, I worked near Radar Peak. The trees there were so dense. I sank into the rotting leaves all the way up to my knees.
I'm afraid I'll get sick from the miasma."
"Radar Peak?" Ye was shocked.
"Yes. The regiment had an emergency assignment: clear out a warning zone all around the peak by cutting down trees."
Radar Peak was a mysterious place. The steep, once-nameless peak got its moniker from the large parabolic antenna dish at the top. In reality, everyone with a little common sense knew it wasn't a radar antenna: Even though its orientation changed every day, the antenna never moved in a continuous manner. As the wind blew past it, the dish emit-ted a howl that could be heard from far away.
People in Ye's company knew only that Radar Peak was a military base. According to the locals, when the base was built three years ago, the military mobilized a lot of people to construct a road leading to the top and to string a power line along it. Tons of supplies were transported up the mountain. But after the completion of the base, the road was destroyed, leaving behind only a difficult trail that snaked between the trees. Often helicopters could be seen landing on and lifting off the peak.
The antenna wasn't always visible. When the wind was too strong, it was retracted.
But when it was extended, many strange things occurred around the area: Animals in the forest became noisy and anxious, flocks of birds erupted from the woods, and people suffered nausea and dizziness. Also, those who lived near Radar Peak tended to lose their hair. According to the locals, these phenomena only began after the antenna was built.
There were many strange stories associated with Radar Peak. One time, when it was snowing, the antenna was extended, and the snow instantly turned to rain. Since the temperature near ground was still below freezing, the rain turned to ice on the trees. Gigantic icicles hung from the trees, and the forest turned into a crystal palace. From time to time, branches cracked under the weight of the ice, and the icicles crashed to the ground with loud thumps. Sometimes, when the antenna was extended, a clear day would turn to thunder and lightning, and strange lights would appear in the night sky.
After the arrival of the Construction Corps company, the commander told everyone right away to take care to avoid approaching the heavily guarded Radar Peak, because the patrols were allowed to shoot without warning.
Last week, two of the men had gone hunting and chased a deer to the foot of Radar Peak without realizing where they were, and the sentries stationed halfway up the peak shot at them. Luckily, the forest was dense that the two escaped without injury, though one of the men peed in his pants. At the company meeting the next day, both men were primanded. Maybe it was because of this incident that the base had directed the Corps to create a warning zone in the forest around the peak. The fact that the base could issue labor assignments to the Construction Corps hinted at its political power.
Bai Mulin accepted the book from Ye and carefully hid it under his pillow. From the same place, he retrieved a few sheets of paper filled with dense writing and handed them to her. "This is a draft of my letter. Would you read it?"
"Like I was telling you, I want to write to the central leadership in Beijing"
The handwriting was very sloppy, and Ye had to read it slowly. But the content was informative and tightly argued. The letter began by describing how the Tailuing Mountains had turned from a historically fertile place to the barren wasteland it was today as a result of deforestation. It then described the recent, rapid rise in the Yellow Rivers silt content. Finally, it concluded that the Inner Mongolia Production and Construction Corps' actions would lead to severe ecological consequences. Ye noticed that Bai's style was similar to that of Silent Spring, precise and plain, but also poetic. Though her background was in technical subjects, she enjoyed the literary prose.
"It's beautiful," she said sincerely.
Bai nodded. "Then I'll send it." He took out a few fresh sheets of pa-per to make a clean copy of the draft. But his hands shook so much that he couldn't form any characters. This was a common reaction after using a chain saw for the first time. Their trembling hands couldn't even hold a rice bowl steady, let alone write legibly.
"Why don't I copy it for you?" Ye said. She took the pen from him.
"You have such pretty handwriting," Bai said as he looked at her first line of characters on the page. He poured a glass of water for Ye. His hands shook so much that he spilled some of the water. Ye moved the letter out of t he way.
"You studied physics?" Bai asked.
"Astrophysics. Useless now." Ye did not even lift her head.
"You study the stars. How can that be useless? Colleges have reopened recently, but they're not taking graduate students. For highly educated and skilled individuals like you to be sent to a place like this. . ."
Ye said nothing and kept on writing. She did not want to tell Bai that for someone like her to be able to join the Construction Corps was very fortunate. She didn't want to comment on the way things were—there was nothing worthwhile to say.
The hut became quiet, filled only with the sound of pen nib scratching against paper. Ye could smell the fragrance of the sawdust on Bai's body. For the first time since the death of her father, she experienced warmth in her heart and allowed herself to relax, momentarily letting down her guard against the world.
More than an hour later, she was done copying the letter. She wrote out the address on the envelope as Bai dictated it and got up to say good-bye.
At the door, she turned around. "Let me have your jacket. I'll wash it for you." She was surprised by her own boldness.
"No! How can I do that?" Bai shook his head. "The woman warriors of the Construction Corps work just as hard as the men every day. You should get back to have some rest. Tomorrow you have to get up at six to work in the mountains. Oh, Wenjie, I'll be heading back to division headquarters the day after tomorrow. I will explain your situation to my superiors. Maybe it will help."
"Thank you. But I like it here. It's quiet." Ye looked at the dim out-line of the dark woods in the moonlight.
"Are you trying to run away from something?"
"I'm leaving," Ye said in a soft voice. And she did.
Bai watched her slender figure disappear in the moonlight. Then he lifted his gaze to the dark woods that she had been looking at a moment earlier.
In the distance, the gigantic antenna on top of Radar Peak rose once again, giving off a cold, metallic glint.
One afternoon three weeks later, Ye Wenjie was summoned back to company headquarters from the logging camp. As soon as she entered the office, she sensed the mood was wrong. The company commander and the political instructor were both present, along with a stranger with a stern expression. On the desk in front of the stranger was a black briefcase, and an envelope and a book lay next to it. The envelope was open, and the book was the copy of Silent Spring that she had read.
During those years, everyone had a special sensitivity for their own political situation. The sense was especially acute in Ye Wenjie. She felt the world around her closing in like a sack being drawn shut, and everything pressing in on her.
"Ye Wenjie, this is Director Zhang of the Division Political Department. He's here to investigate." Her political instructor pointed at the stranger. "We hope you will cooperate fully and tell the truth."
"Did you write this letter?" Director Zhang asked. He pulled the letter out of the envelope. Ye reached for it, but Zhang held on to the letter and showed it to her page by page until he reached the very last page, the one she was most interested in.
There was no signature except "The Revolutionary Masses."
"No, I did not write this." Ye shook her head in fright.
"But this is your handwriting."
"Yes, but I just copied it for someone else."
Normally, whenever she suffered some injustice at the company, Ye refused to protest openly. She simply endured silently, and would never consider implicating others. But this time was different. She understood very well what this meant.
"I helped a reporter from the Great Production News. He was here a few weeks ago. His name is—"
"Ye Wenjie!" Director Zhang's two black eyes were trained on her like the barrels of two guns. "I am warning you: Framing others will only make your problem worse. We've already clarified the situation with Comrade Bai Mulin. His only involvement was posting the letter from Hohhot under your direction. He had no idea as to the letter's contents.' 
"He . . . he said that?" Ye felt everything go black before her eyes. Instead of answering, Director Zhang picked up the book. "Your letter was clearly inspired by this book." He showed the book to the company director and the political instructor. "Silent Spring was published in America in 1962 and has been quite influential in the capitalist world.
He then took another book out of the briefcase. The cover was white with black characters. "This is the Chinese translation. The appropriate authorities distributed it to select cadres as internal reference so that it could be criticized. As of now, the appropriate authorities have already given their clear judgment: The book is a toxic piece of reactionary propaganda. It takes the stance of pure historical idealism and espouses a doomsday theory. Under the guise of discussing environmental problems, it seeks to justify the ultimate corruption of the capitalist world. The content is extremely reactionary."
"But this book ... it doesn't belong to me."
"Comrade Bai was appointed as a translator by the appropriate authorities. So it was perfectly legitimate for him to carry it. Of course, he is responsible for being careless and allowing you to steal it while he was participating in Construction Corps work assignments. From this book, you obtained intellectual weapons that could be used to attack socialism."
Ye Wenjie held her tongue. She knew that she had already fallen to the bottom of the pit. Any struggle was useless.
Contrary to certain historical records that later became publicized, Bai Mulin did not intend to frame Ye Wenjie at the start. The letter he wrote to the central leadership in Beijing was likely based on a real sense of responsibility. Back then, many people wrote to the central leadership with all kinds of personal agendas. Most of these letters were never answered, but a few of the letter writers did see their political fortunes rise meteorically overnight, while others invited catastrophe. The political currents of the time were extremely complex. As a reporter, Bai believed he could read the currents and avoid dangerous sensitivities, but he was overconfident, and his letter touched a minefield that he did not know existed. After he heard about its reception, fear overwhelmed everything else. In order to protect himself, he decided to sacrifice Ye Wenjie.
Half a century later, historians would all agree that this event in 1969 was a turning point in humankind's history.
Without intending to, Bai became a key historical figure. But he never learned of this fact. Historians recorded the rest of his uneventful life with disappointment. He continued to work at Great Production News until 1975, when the Inner Mongolia Production and Construction Corps was disbanded. He was then sent to a city in Northeast China to work for the Science Association until the beginning of the eighties. Then he left the country for Canada, where he taught at a Chinese school in Ottawa until 1991, when he died from lung cancer. For the rest of his life, he never mentioned Ye Wenjie, and we do not know if he ever felt remorse or repented for his actions.
"Wenjie, the company has treated you extremely well." The company commander exhaled a thick cloud of smoke from his Mohe tobacco. He stared at the ground and continued. "By birth and family background, you're politically suspect. But we've always treated you as one of our own. Both the political instructor and I have spoken to you many times concerning your tendency to sequester yourself from the people, and your lack of self-motivation in seeking progress. We want to help you. But look at you! You've committed such a serious error!"
The political instructor picked up the theme. "I've always said that I thought she had a deep-rooted resentment of the Cultural Revolution." "Have her escorted to division headquarters this afternoon, along with the evidence of her crime," Director Zhang said, his face impassive.
The three other women prisoners in the cell were taken away one by one until only Ye was left. The small pile of coal in the corner had been exhausted, and no one came to replenish it. The fire in the stove had gone out a while ago. It was so cold in the cell that Ye had to wrap herself in the blanket.
Two officials came to her before it got dark. The older one, a female cadre, was introduced by her associate as the military representative from the Intermediate People's Court(*7).
[Author’s Note(*7): During that phase of the Cultural Revolution, most intermediate and higher people’s courts and procuratorial organs (responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes) were under the control of military commissions. The military representative had the final vote on judicial matter.]
"My name is Cheng Lihua," the cadre introduced herself. She was in her forties, dressed in a military coat, and wore thick-rimmed glasses. Her face was gentle, and it was clear that she had been very beautiful when she was young. She spoke with a smile and instantly made people like her. Ye Wenjie understood that it was unusual for such a high-grade cadre to visit a prisoner about to be tried. Cautiously, she nodded at Cheng and moved to make space on her narrow cot so she could sit down.
"It's really cold in here. What happened to your stove?" Cheng gave a reprimanding look to the head of the detention center standing at the door of the cell. She turned back to Ye. "Hmm, you're very young. Even younger than I imagined."
She sat down on the cot right next to Ye and rummaged in her briefcase, still muttering. "Wenjie, you're very confused. Young people are all the same. The more books you read, the more confused you become. Eh, what can I say. . . ."
She found what she was looking for and took out a small bundle of papers. Looking at Ye, her eyes were filled with kindness and affection. "But it s not a big deal. What young person hasn't made some mistakes? I made mistakes myself. When I was a young woman, as a member of the art troupe for the Fourth Field Army, I specialized in singing Soviet songs. One time, during a political study session, I announced that China should cease to be a separate country and join the USSR as a member republic. That way, international communism would be further strengthened. How naive I was! But who wasn't once naive? What's done is done. When you make a mistake, what's important is to recognize it and correct it. Then you can continue the revolution."
Cheng's words seemed to draw Ye closer to her. But after having gone through so many troubles, Ye had learned to be cautious. She did not dare to believe in this kindness, which almost resembled a luxury.
Cheng placed the stack of papers on the bed in front of Ye and handed her a pen. "Come now, sign this. Then we can have a good heart-to-heart and resolve your ideological difficulties." Her tone was like that of a mother trying to encourage her daughter to eat.
Ye stared at the stack of papers silently and motionlessly. She did not pick up the pen.
Cheng gave her a forgiving smile. "You can trust me, Wenjie. I personally guarantee that this document has nothing to do with your case. Go ahead. Sign it."
Her associate, who stood to the side, added, "Ye Wenjie, Representative Cheng is trying to help you. She's been working hard on your behalf."
Cheng waved at him to stop. "It's understandable. Poor child! You've been so frightened. There are some comrades whose political awareness is not adequately high. Some members of the Construction Corps and some of the folks from the people's court employ such simplistic methods and behave so rudely. It's completely inappropriate! All right, Wenjie, why don't you read the document? Read it carefully."
Ye picked up the document and flipped through it in the dim yellow light of the detention cell. Representative Cheng hadn't lied to her. The document really had nothing to do with her case.
It was about her father. In it was a record of her father's interactions and conversations with certain individuals. The source was Wenjie's younger sister, Wenxue. As one of the most radical Red Guards, Wenxue had always been proactive in exposing their father, and had composed numerous reports detailing his supposed sins. Some of the material she provided had ultimately led to his death.
But Ye could tell that this report didn't come from the hand of her sister. Wenxue had an intense, impatient style. When you read her reports, each line would make an explosive impact, like a string of fire-crackers. But this document was composed in a cool, experienced, meticulous style. Who spoke to whom, when, where, what was discussed—every detail was recorded, down to the exact date. For someone who wasn't experienced, the contents seemed like a boring diary, but the calculating, cold purpose hidden within was very different from the childish antics of Wenxue.
Ye couldn't really understand what the document was getting at, but she could sense that it had something to do with an important national defense project. As the daughter of a physicist, Ye guessed that it was a reference to the double-bomb project(*8) that had shocked the world in 1964 and 1967.
[Translator’s Note(*8):this is the Chinese term for the work behind “595” and “Test No.6,” the successful tests for China’s first fission and fusion nuclear bombs, respectively.]
During this period of the Cultural Revolution, in order to bring down a highly positioned individual, it was necessary to gather evidence of his deficiencies in the various areas he was in charge of. But for those plotting such political machinations, the double-bomb project posed great difficulties. People in the highest levels of the government placed the project under their protection to avoid disruption by the Cultural Revolution. It: was difficult for those with nefarious purposes to pry into its inner workings.
Due to her father's family background, he couldn't meet the political requirements and did not work on the double-bomb project. All he had done was some peripheral theoretical work for it. But it was easier to make use of him than those who had worked at the core of the project. Ye Wenjie couldn't tell if the contents of the document were true or false, but she was sure that every character and every punctuation mark had the potential to deliver a fatal political blow. In addition to those targeted directly, countless others might have their fates altered because of this document.
At the end of the document was her sister's signature in large characters, and Ye Wenjie was supposed to sign as a witness. She noticed that three other witnesses had already signed.
"I don't know anything about these conversations," Ye said softly. She put the document back down.
"How can you not know? Many of these conversations occurred right in your home. Your sister knew them. You must, too."
"I really don't."
"But these conversations really did occur. You must have faith in us."
"I didn't say they weren't true. But I really don't know about them. So I can't sign."
"Ye Wenjie!" Cheng's associate took a step closer. But Cheng stopped him again. She shifted to sit even closer to Ye and picked up one of her cold hands.
"Wenjie, let me put all my cards on the table. Your case has a lot of prosecutorial discretion. On the one hand, we could minimize it as a case of an educated youth being fooled by a reactionary book—it's not a big deal. We don't even need to go through a judicial procedure. We'll have you attend a political class and write a few self-criticism reports, and then you can go back to the Construction Corps. On the other hand, we could also prosecute this case to its fullest extent. Wenjie, you must know that you could be declared an active counter-revolutionary.
"Now, faced with political cases like yours, all prosecutorial organs and courts would rather be too severe than too lax. This is because treating you too severely would just be a mistake in method, but treating you too laxly would be a mistake in political direction. Ultimately, however, the decision belongs to the military control commission. Of course, I'm telling you all this off the record."
Cheng's associate added, "Representative Cheng is trying to save you. Three witnesses have already signed. Your refusal to sign is pretty much meaningless. I must urge you not to be confused, Ye Wenjie."
"Right, Wenjie," Cheng continued. "It would break my heart to see an educated young person like you ruined by something like this. I really want to save you. Please cooperate. Look at me. Do you think I would hurt you?"
But Ye did not look at Representative Cheng. What she saw, instead, was her father's blood. "Representative Cheng, I have no knowledge of the events recorded in this document. I cannot sign it."
Cheng Lihua became quiet. She stared at Ye for a long while, and the cold air in the cell seemed to solidify. Then she slowly put the document back into her briefcase and stood up. Her kind expression did not disappear, but was set on her face like a plaster mask. Still appearing kind and affectionate, she walked to the corner of the cell, where there was a bucket for washing. She picked it up and poured half the water onto Ye and the other half onto her blanket, her movements never straying from a methodical calmness. Then she dropped the bucket and left the cell, pausing only to mutter, "You stubborn little bitch!"
The head of the detention center was the last to leave, He stared coldly at Ye, soaked through and dripping, shut the cell door with a bang, and locked it.
Through her wet clothes, the chill of the Inner Mongolian winter seized Ye like a giant's fist. She heard her teeth chatter, but eventually even that sound disappeared. The coldness penetrated into her bones, and the world in her eyes turned milky white. She felt that the entire universe was a huge block of ice, and she was the only spark of life within it. She was the little girl about to freeze to death, and she didn't even have a handful of matches, only illusions. . . .
The block of ice holding her gradually became transparent. In front of her she could see a tall building. At the top, a young girl waved a bright red banner. Her slender figure contrasted vividly with the breadth of the flag: It was her sister, Wenxue. Ever since her little sister had made a clean break with her reactionary academic authority family, Wenjie had heard no news about her. She had only learned recently that Wenxue had died two years ago in one of the wars between Red Guard factions.
As Ye watched, the figure waving the flag became Bai Mulin, his glasses reflecting the flames raging below the building; then it turned into Representative Cheng; then her mother, Shao Lin; then her father. The flag-bearer kept on changing, but the flag waved ceaselessly, like a perpetual pendulum, counting down the remainder of her short life.
Gradually, the flag grew blurry; everything grew blurry. The ice that filled the universe once again sealed her at its center. Only this time, the ice was black.
Chapter 2 Vocabulary Note 
thump - the dull sound that is made when something hits a surface
mortuary - the place where a body is kept before a funeral and where the funeral is sometimes held
cluster - a group of things of the same kind that are very close together
mirage - an effect caused by hot air is a desert, which makes you think that you can see objects when they are not actually there
ardor - very strong feeling of love; passion
dung - solid waste from animals, especially cows
ridge - a long area of high land, especially at the top of a mountain
locust - an insect that lives mainly in Asia and Africa and flies in a very large group eating and destroying crops
stump - the bottom of a tree that is left in the ground after the rest of it has been cut down
bereft - completely without any hope; feeling very sad and lonely
hewn - to cut something with a cutting tool
shrub - a small bush with several woody stems
weather - to come through a very difficult situation safely; if rock, wood or someone's face is weathered by the wind, sun, rain etc, or if it weathers, it changes color or shape over a period of time
crimson - deep red in color
blurt - to say something suddenly and without thinking, usually because you are nervous or excited
hut - a small simple building with only one or two room
cadre - a small group of specially trained people in a profession, political party, or military force
suffuse - full of something
mull - to think about a problem, plan etc for a long time before making a decision
miasma - dirty air or a thick unpleasant mist that smells bad
moniker - a name, especially one that you choose for yourself or give something - used humorously
parabolic - a curve in the shape of the imaginary line an object makes when it is thrown high in the air and comes down a little distance away
snake - if a river, road or line snakes something, it moves in long twisting curves; wind
sentry - a soldier standing outside a building as a guard
argue - to show that something clearly exists or is true
prose - written language in its usual form, as opposed to poetry
nib - the pointed metal part at the end of a pen
train - to aim something such as a gun or camera at someone or something
She trained her binoculars on the bird
stance - a position in which you stand, especially when playing a sport; an opinion that is stated publicly
espouse - to support and idea, belief etc, especially a political one
guise - the way someone or something appears to be, which hides the truth or is only temporary
meteorically - happening very suddenly and quickly
remorse - a strong feeling of being sorry that you have done something very bad; regret
repent - to be sorry for something and wish you had not done it - used especially when considering your actions in a religious way
sequester - to keep a person or a group of people away from other people
impassive - not showing any emotion
replenish - to put new supplies into something, or to fill something again
cot - a small bed with high sides
rummage - to search for something by moving things around in a careless or hurried way
troupe - a group of singers, actors, dances etc who work together
discretion - the ability and right the decide exactly what should be done in a particular situation
lax - not strict or careful enough about standards of behavior, work, safety etc; slack


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