Memories of the Cowshed is one of China’s top bestsellers on the Cultural Revolution. Ji Xianlin’s 1998 memoir recounts the painful and deeply disenchanting period he spent in the “cowshed,” an improvised prison on the Peking University campus for intellectuals labeled as “class enemies.” After the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), the cowsheds became a taboo subject on campuses across China, where persecutors and victims often continued to work alongside each other. Published in 1998, Ji’s memoir became a bestseller as one of the few firsthand accounts of the “cowshed” to have been written by an immediate victim of the political frenzy. To a remarkable extent, Memories of the Cowshed achieved Ji’s goal of directing public attention to the brutality of the Cultural Revolution: today, if a Beijing or Shanghai local has read one book on the Cultural Revolution, it is likely to be Memories. Given that Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo is one of thousands of political prisoners in China, Ji Xianlin’s eyewitness story of surviving “reform through labor” remains a timely and important read.

In the excerpts selected below, Ji describes being severely beaten in the cowshed. He reflects on the demoralizing effect of being imprisoned, as well as the mass worship of Chairman Mao that made the Cultural Revolution possible.

 

 1

After the evening assembly, or sometimes even after the regulation bedtime of ten o’clock, the biology student turned prison guard Zhang Guoxiang could be found beneath the brightly lit tree in the center of the yard, sitting with his right leg planted on a chair. He would be picking at the dirt beneath his toenails and railing at the unlucky convict who stood before him, hanging his head.

One night I was surprised to find Lu Ping, Peking University’s former President and Party Committee Secretary, standing before Zhang while he sat in that memorable position. Lu Ping had been a leader of the 1935 anti-Japanese student protests, and once served as the deputy minister of railways. A principal target of the Empress Dowager’s big-character posters, he had previously been imprisoned elsewhere, and was only moved to the cowshed later.[1] I could not tell how long the interrogation had lasted, but something looked fishy about the whole affair.

I didn’t realize then that I would be standing in Lu Ping’s position only a few nights later. Some time after the curfew bell had rung, I heard someone call my name from the direction of the Democracy Block. Even at night, I was always extremely alert, and I rushed to the front yard right away. There I found Zhang sitting with his feet up:

“Why have you been corresponding with spy organizations?”

“I have not.”

“Why did you say that Comrade Jiang Qing has been giving the New Peking University Commune morphine shots?”[2]

“That was only intended metaphorically.”

“How many wives do you have?”

I was startled, and carefully replied: “I do not have several wives.”

We had a few more exchanges of this sort before he observed, “I have been very kind to you tonight.” He was right: I had not been kicked or assaulted in any way, and was as heartily relieved as the recipient of an imperial pardon. But the word “tonight” should have aroused my suspicions.

The following night, after the curfew bell had rung and I was getting ready for bed, I heard a voice yell: “Ji Xianlin!” I sped to the yard even faster that I had the previous day, and saw Mr. Zhang fuming on the corner: “Where have you been? Are you deaf?”

Before I had time to process this ugly turn of events, a storm of blows rained down on my head. I knew that Zhang’s weapon must be a bicycle chain wrapped in rubber. Not daring to move, I stood there rigidly without flinching. There was a ringing in my ears, and my head spun; the sensation in my ears, mouth, and nose was worse than pain. I thought I might faint, but I forced myself to hold on. In my confusion, I could no longer hear Zhang shout.

I finally heard the command: “Get lost!” Realizing that the wrathful god had again shown mercy, I hurried back to my room with my tail between my legs. Later, the convicts who lived on that block, terrified, told me how long the beating had lasted.

As soon as I had regained my senses, I began to feel sore all over. I examined myself: my nose and ears were bleeding, but my teeth were intact, and I could still open my swollen eyes. I writhed in bed all night long, my whole body aching, my open wounds sticky with blood. Without a mirror, I could only guess what I must look like; when Zhang’s victims appeared the following morning, their faces were always swollen with bruises, and I figured I must be in an even worse state. I was not exempt from the next day’s routine of work and memorizing Mao’s sayings, but my mind was completely blank; I didn’t even think of suicide.

Mr Zhang wasn’t through with me yet. He barged into my cell at noon and ordered me to change rooms. It wasn’t as though I had any belongings to pack: I simply picked up my bed sheets and took them to a room opposite the spot where I had been beaten. By day it seemed no different than my previous cell, but by night I realized: this was the VIP room for very important prisoners. The lights stayed on all night, and the prisoners took turns standing guard. (Was this meant to prevent escapes? Surely that was unnecessary, as intellectuals are the most timid of prisoners. Perhaps the guards were wary of suicides, hangings, and the like.) I realized that the beating had earned me promotion to a deeper level of hell, analogous to death row or to the Avici circle of the Buddhist hell. Lu Ping also lived here.

Mr Zhang subsequently forced one Professor Wang and me to fetch water for the whole camp three times a day, by pushing a cart to the public stove. I don’t know how Professor Wang managed to end up in the same boat as me, since he had committed no great crime and never been a member of Jinggang Mountain.[3] Carrying water was backbreaking work, and we both had to do it three times a day on top of our daily labor and rote memorization. We looked on as other inmates ate hungrily. We invariably got soaked in the rain; we would have had to fetch water even if it rained knives. But Professor Wang seemed to enjoy himself in spite of it: when we got to the stove he would always smoke a cigarette and secretly make himself a cup of tea.

2

After a few months in the cowshed, I could feel my emotions being dulled and my thoughts growing more stupid by the day. I may have been a man in prison, but I felt like a hungry ghost in hell; I began to judge myself the way I knew other people judged me. I used to consider myself a person, and treated myself as one. But to borrow a popular psychological term, I now felt alienated from myself.

I hope to possess self-knowledge without arrogance: if the world has two kinds of people, “good guys” and “bad guys,” as a child might say, I profess to be one of the good guys. I have, for instance, always been neither stingy nor avaricious. When I was eighteen, the pharmacist’s clerk in Jinan once gave me too much change. A silver coin was a small fortune to a teenager, but I gave it back to him right away. His face reddened; only later would I learn what that look on his face meant. In 1946, when I was about to return to China, I sold a gold watch so as to send some money home, and exchanged the remaining francs for gold. The man made a mistake and gave me an extra ounce of gold; again, I gave it back right away. These were all minor incidents, but they meant something to an ordinary person like me.

I soon grew used to acting like a ghost, although I had resisted it. The distinctions between man and ghost, beauty and ugliness, good and evil, had become hazy. I felt useless, like a cracked jug. I thought neither of the future nor of ending my life—I had simply stopped caring who I was.

Anyway, I had more pressing problems. The living allowance allotted to my family was pitiful, and we would have starved even if we ate nothing but cornmeal cakes with pickled vegetables. Without a drop of fuel in my stomach, the hard labor made me constantly hungry. Sometimes I trailed the guards around, begging them for empty tofu cans, so that I could dip cornmeal cakes into the thin liquid at the bottom of them. At one point I was made to clean out student dormitories that had been damaged during fighting by the rival factions. In a large room littered with debris on the south end of the twenty-eighth floor, I found a couple of moldy steamed buns in a drawer. Without stopping to think about dirt or germs, I pocketed my finds and wolfed them down secretly in a corner when the guards weren’t looking.

I learned to be economical with the truth. After prison, I was still forced to work, but allowed to live at home. When I was at a worksite and unbearably hungry, I would tell the worker leading our team that I had to go to the hospital. With permission to leave, I would scurry home by back alleys no one used, gulp down a couple of steamed buns with sesame paste, and hurry back to work. This was a risky scheme: if I ran into a guard or one of their informants, the consequences would be grim.

One day I found some ten-cent and twenty-cent notes on the road, and delightedly stuffed them into my pocket. A convict was prohibited from holding his head up when walking; from then on, I turned the rule to my advantage, and kept my eyes peeled for copper coins. When I realized that the toilet in the cowshed was the best place to find copper coins, the outhouse that everyone shunned became one of my favorite places.

3

In 1978, when the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference resumed its meetings, I met an old Party official at the Beijing Friendship Hotel. He was an old revolutionary, much admired in literary and artistic circles. Before the Cultural Revolution, we had both been members of the social science working group at the Conference, but we had not seen each other in more than a decade. The first words he said to me were: “Our ancestors said: ‘The scholar can be killed, but he cannot be humiliated.’ The Cultural Revolution has proved that the scholar can be killed, but he can also be humiliated.”[4] He began to roar with—laughter, or were those tears? I was unable even to feign a smile. Isn’t it clear how much this old man must have suffered?

He was not alone; I, for one, also felt that way, and I imagine that many other Chinese intellectuals must have too. We are descended from the scholars who “can be killed, but cannot be humiliated,” a tradition that probably makes us even more thin-skinned than our Western counterparts.

The events of the Cultural Revolution led me to consider the history and present state of intellectuals in China. Although they did not constitute a social class, scholars would have ranked ahead of farmers, artisans, and merchants in feudal society. Neither at the very top nor at the very bottom of the feudal system, they nonetheless commanded respect. I was born too late to ever have known intellectuals like those in the Qing dynasty novel The Scholars. But I did know a few intellectuals of the warlord and Kuomintang era, such as the respected and well-paid and –university professors of the time. Since social existence determines consciousness, they were often self-assured, cocky types. By the time I myself became a professor, Kuomintang influence was waning, inflation had reached unbelievable levels, and the real income of a professor was pitiful. Yet professors still wore the long scholars’ gown preferred by scholars as a mark of their social status, like the man caricatured by Lu Xun in his short story “Kong Yiji.”

I, like many other professors, greeted the Liberation enthusiastically. We felt we had stood up and been counted, had been given a new lease of life. We were as excited and naïve as small children. To borrow the phrase of a popular song, we felt that “the skies in the liberated areas are blue.” Everything we set our eyes on seemed to glow.

But the glow didn’t last. During the Three Anti and Five Anti-campaigns, the first major reform movements targeting capitalists and other “counterrevolutionaries,” I made a public confession at a department meeting and came away feeling lighter, stronger, as though I had been cleansed of my filth. Such was the euphoria of self-criticism.[5] But before long the criticism campaigns came thick and fast, and I could barely keep up. We criticized Wu Xun. We criticized Redology, we criticized Hu Feng, we criticized Hu Shi… There was no end to the campaigns, which culminated in the anti-Rightist campaigns of 1957.[6] Although I had not been assigned any class labels or political “hats,” I was always keyed up, always on edge—those were bleak days. But at the time, I believed in the mass campaigns. I had no misgivings. Incidentally, the “airplane position” had not yet been invented, so public struggle sessions were not the great spectacles that they later became during the Cultural Revolution. But nonetheless, during the anti-Rightist campaigns, I went to many of the “struggle sessions” at which crowds tormented individual “Rightists,” and read the thick files compiled about their “crimes.” I was bewildered, especially as I saw the crowds acting in ways that were difficult to reconcile with Mao’s original directives. Even so, I had no doubts, not even about Mao’s famous declaration: if the anti-Rightist campaign is a conspiracy, it is a conspiracy carried out in broad daylight!

 Before 1949, I had assumed that all politics was filthy, and made up my mind to have nothing to do with it. I did not understand the Communist Party; I simply felt that the Kuomintang government was corrupt and must collapse. But as I have said, the febrile self-criticism of the post-1949 political campaigns transformed my attitude. I realized that not all politics was necessarily corrupt; the Communist Party, for instance, was not. But I also excoriated myself: while the Chinese people were bleeding in battle with the Japanese, I had selfishly been pursuing my own academic career thousands of miles away. My scholarship, my scraps of erudition, if they could even be called that, were a source of vast shame. For a long time, I called myself a member of the “fruit-picking faction,” a parasite who had contributed nothing to the war effort but returned to pluck the fruit of victory. How could I make amends?

My thoughts ran wild. I even wished there could be another war against Japan, to give me a chance to prove myself. I knew I was capable of fighting, of sacrifice. I devoured novels about World War Two and about the civil war. I worshiped the soldiers and Communists they depicted, vowing to emulate their heroism. My state of mind at the time can be inferred from the eagerness with which I threw myself into these childish fantasies.

I had formerly despised cults of personal worship. Before the war, I used to sneer at Kuomintang supporters for worshipping their leader, Chiang Kai-Shek. As a student at Tsinghua University, I had met this so-called leader when we marched to Nanjing after the Mukden incident and requested an audience with him. He had lied to us then, and we resented him for it. My mentor, Chen Yinke, felt the same way about this man, as the line “One who delights in flowers is saddened to climb high towers” from his poem shows.[7] I later moved to Germany during the war, when fascism was at its height. The German greeting “Heil Hitler!” sounded preposterous to me. A pretty teenage girl once told me, “Bearing one of Hitler’s children would be the greatest honor of my life!” I found this sort of delirious talk incomprehensible, and couldn’t help thinking: we Chinese people are too shrewd to fall for something like that.

I returned to China after the war. Three years later, the country was liberated. Many old intellectuals probably shared the euphoria I have described above. Each year there were two grand parades at Tiananmen Square, on Labor Day and on National Day. We always got up at dawn, and assembled on the main campus to march to a narrow lane near the Dongdan crossing. We would wait there for hours. When the parade began officially at ten, our company would pass through Tiananmen to be inspected by the Great Leader. At the time, the three great gates to the square had not yet been demolished. East of the gates, it was impossible to see either the main Tiananmen gate or the leaders. But once we had turned the corner past the gates, we could see the Great Leader, so the crowd, thousands strong, would begin to cry: “Long live Chairman Mao!” At first, the phrase “Long live” struck in my throat. But before long, because of my natural tendency to go along with the crowd, I too found myself raising my voice in elation, as though this were the cry of my soul. I had fallen at the Great Leader’s feet.

This is a true account of my intellectual journey. If the existence of oceans can indeed be inferred from a drop of water, or the universe seen in a grain of sand, then perhaps other old intellectuals had similar experiences. If nothing else, our ordeals demonstrate that Chinese intellectuals, both old and young, are consumed with love for China. Patriotism has been our heritage for centuries; it is part of what makes us distinctive, what makes us different from intellectuals in other countries.

“Who wakes first from a dream?/ Only I know the life I have led.”[8] Waking from dreams is not one of my strengths. Even after I had been imprisoned, I continued to support the Cultural Revolution. But then I found that “all that glitters is not gold.” During my imprisonment, I encountered the soldiers and workers who had been sent to “support the leftist faction” at Peking University. I used to worship soldiers and workers: “All citizens must learn from the People’s Liberation Army!” “The proletariat must take the lead in everything!” I had believed in and obeyed all these slogans. But in my dealings with them, I found that some of them were arrogant, brutal, ignorant thugs who cared nothing for politics. I came to my senses, as though someone had poured a bucket of cold water on me. I knew no one is perfect, but I had not imagined that the objects of my worship could act so despicably. As materialists, our approach to things should be pragmatic and our motivations transparent; deceit and duplicity are incompatible with our convictions. We intellectuals had our faults, but we were not the worst offenders in this respect.

The persecution of intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution was indefensible. For the vast majority of those who were persecuted, it is not merely a thing of the past. For myself, I suppose I am glad that the cowshed left me with an unforgettable experience. But even now that my paltry successes have surrounded me with a cacophony of flattering voices, I sometimes think: I should commit suicide. That I have not done so is a stain on my character; my very existence is cause for shame, I am living on borrowed time. I know such thoughts can lead to no good. But since I think them, I may as well say them aloud.

[1] The “Empress” is Ji’s sarcastic epithet for Nie Yuanzi (1921- ), the radical philosophy professor whose big-character posters sparked radicalization on the Peking University campus and helped to fuel the Cultural Revolution nationwide. Ji mocks Nie’s revolutionary credentials by comparing her to the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908), who controlled the Qing dynasty courts for half a century.

2 The New Peking University Commune consisted of Nie’s supporters.

3 The rival faction to Nie’s New Peking University Commune.

4 This “old revolutionary” was Zhou Yang (1908–89), a controversial character who took the lead in several political campaigns, including the campaign against Hu Feng which Ji mentions below. He was imprisoned at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution and only released in 1978.

5 Using Party language, Ji writes that he “bathed” in a “medium-sized tub”—a public confession was referred to as a “bath,” and a “large tub” would have been a meeting of the whole staff and student body, whereas Ji’s medium tub would have been a gathering of all staff and students in the Department of Eastern Languages.

6 Wu Xun (1838–96), late Qing dynasty figure who rose from poverty to become a landlord, and used his money to establish schools for the very poor. Redology, the study of the eighteenth-century classic novel The Dream of the Red Chamber [Hong Lou Meng], by Cao Xueqin. Hu Feng (1902–85), prominent literary theorist who became the target of a national criticism campaign. Hu Shi (1891–1962), a leading reformer of the May Fourth movement.

7 This seemingly cryptic line is a recasting of the first line of the poem “Climbing a tower” [Deng Lou] by the Tang dynasty poet Du Fu (717–70): “The traveler climbing a tall tower to gaze at flowers is overwhelmed by grief.” Du Fu’s poem condemned the weak central government during a time of political turmoil; Chen Yinke’s poem indirectly criticized the Nationalist government by comparing it to the tottering Tang dynasty court.

8 Quoted from a poem spoken by the military strategist Zhuge Liang in Luo Guanzhong’s fourteenth-century novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms [San guo yan yi].

From 牛棚杂忆. Translation © 2012 by Chenxin Jiang. All rights reserved.

1

 

  有几天晚上,在晚间训话之后,甚至在十点钟规定的犯人就寝之后,院子里大榆树下面,灯光依然很辉煌,这一位张老爷,坐在一把椅子上,抬起右腿,把脚放到椅子上,用手在脚指头缝里抠个不停。他面前垂首站着一个罪犯。他问着什么问题,间或对罪犯大声训斥,怒骂。这种训斥和怒骂,我已经看惯了。但是他这坐的姿势,我觉得极为新鲜,在我脑海里留下的影像,永世难忘。更让我难忘的是,有一天晚上,他眼前垂头站立的竟是原北大校长兼党委书记,一二·九运动的领导人之一,当过铁道部副部长的陆平。他是那位老佛爷贴大字报点名攻击的主要人物。黑帮大院初建时,他是首要钦犯,囚禁在另外什么地方,还不是棚友。不知道什么时候,他竟也乔迁到棚中来了。张国祥问陆平什么问题,问了多久,后果如何,我一概不知。只是觉得这件事儿很蹊跷而已。

  可是我哪里会想到,过了不几天,这个恶运竞飞临到我头上来了。有一天晚上,已经响过息灯睡觉的铃,我忽然听到从民主楼后面拐角的地方高喊:季羡林!那时我们的神经每时每刻都处在最高战备状态中。我听了以后,连忙用上四条腿的力量,超常发挥的速度,跑到前面大院子里,看到张国祥用上面描绘的那种姿态,坐在那里,右手抠着脚丫子,开口问道:

  你怎么同特务机关有联系呀?

  我没有联系。

  你怎么说江青同志给新北大公社扎吗啡针呀?

  那只是一个形象的说法。

  你有几个老婆呀?

  我大为吃惊,敬谨回禀:

  我没有几个老婆。

  这样一问一答,交谈了几句。他说:

  我今天晚上对你很仁慈!

  是的,我承认他说的是实话。我一没有被拳打脚踢;二没有被国骂痛击。这难道不就是极大的仁慈吗?我真应该感谢皇恩浩荡了。

  我可是万万没有想到,他最后这一句话里面含着极危险的杀机我今天晚上对你很仁慈。明天晚上怎样呢?

  第二天晚上,也是在息灯铃响了以后,我正准备睡觉,忽然像晴空霹雷一般,听到了一声:季羡林!我用比昨晚还要快的速度,走出牢房的门,看到这位张先生不是在大院子里,而是在两排平房的拐角处,怒气冲冲地站在那里:

  喊你为什么不出来?你耳朵聋了吗?

  我知道事情有点不妙。还没有等我再想下去,我脸上,头上蓦地一热,一阵用胶皮裹着的自行车链条作武器打下来的暴风骤雨,铺天盖地地落到我的身上,不是下半身,而是最关要害的头部。我脑袋里嗡嗡地响,眼前直冒金星。但是,我不敢躲闪,笔直地站在那里。最初还有痛的感觉,后来逐渐麻木起来,只觉得头顶上,眼睛上,鼻子上,嘴上,耳朵上,一阵阵火辣辣的滋味,不是痛,而是比痛更难忍受的感觉。我好像要失掉知觉,我好像要倒在地上。但是,我本能地坚持下来。眼前鞭影乱闪,叱骂声——如果有的话——也根本听不到了。我处在一片迷茫、浑沌之中。我不知道,他究竟打了多久。据后来住在拐角上那间牢房里的棚友告诉我,打得时间相当长。他们都觉得十分可怕,大有谈虎色变的样子。我自己则几乎变成了一块木头,一块石头,成为没有知觉的东西,反而没有感到像旁观者感到的那样可怕了。不知到了什么时候,我隐隐约约地仿佛是在梦中,听到了一声:滚蛋!我的知觉恢复了一点,知道这位凶神恶煞又对我仁慈了。我连忙夹着尾巴逃回了牢房。

  但是,知觉一恢复,浑身上下立即痛了起来。我的首要任务是查体,这一次查体全是外科,我先查一查自己的五官四肢还是否完整。眼睛被打肿了,但是试着睁一睁:两眼都还能睁开。足证眼睛是完整的。脸上,鼻子里,嘴里,耳朵上都流着血。但是张了张嘴,里面的牙没有被打掉。至于其他地方流血,不至于性命交关,只好忍住疼痛了。

  试想,这一夜我还能睡得着吗?我躺在木板上,辗转反侧,浑身难受。流血的地方粘糊糊的,只好让它流。痛的地方,也只好让它去痛。我没有镜子,没法照一照我的尊容。过去我的难友,比如地球物理系那一位老教授,东语系那一位女教员等等,被折磨了一夜之后,脸上浮肿,眼圈发青。我看了以后,心里有点颤抖。今天我的脸上就不止浮肿,发青了。我反正自己看不到,由它去吧。

  第二天早晨,照样派活,照样要背语录。我现在干的是在北材料厂外面马路两旁筛沙子的活。我身上是什么滋味?我心里是什么滋味?我一概说不清楚,我完全迷糊了,迷糊到连自杀的念头都没有了。

  正如俗话所说的:祸不单行。我这一个灾难插曲还没有结束。这一天中午,还是那一位张先生走进牢房,命令我搬家。我这没有什么东西,把铺盖一卷,立即搬到我在门外受刑的那一间屋子里。白天没有什么感觉,到了夜里,我才恍然大悟:这里是特别雅座,是囚禁重囚的地方。整夜不许关灯,屋里的囚犯轮流值班看守。不许睡觉。看守什么呢?我不清楚。是怕犯人逃跑吗?这是根本不可能的。知识分子犯人是最胆小的,不会逃跑。看来是怕犯人寻短见,比如上吊之类。现在我才知道,受过重刑之后,我在黑帮大院里的地位提高了,我升级了,升入一个更高的层次。钦犯陆平就住在这间屋里。打一个比方说,我在佛教地狱里进入了阿鼻地狱,相当人间的死囚牢吧。

  但是,问题还没有完。仍然是那一位张先生,命令我同中文系一位姓王的教授,每天推着水车,到茶炉上去打三次开水,供全体囚犯饮用。我不知道为什么这一位王教授会同我并列。据我所知,他并没有参加井冈山,也并没有犯过什么弥天大罪,为什么竟受到这样的惩罚呢?打开水这个活并不轻,每天三次,其他的活照干,语录照背。别人吃饭,我看着。天下大雨,我淋着。就是天上下刀,我也必须把开水打来,真是苦不堪言。但是,那一位姓王的教授却能苦中寻乐:偷偷地在荼炉那里泡上一杯茶,抽上一烟斗烟。好像是乐在其中矣。

 

2

 

  在牛棚里已经呆了一段时间。自己脑筋越来越糊涂,心情越来越麻木。这个地方,不是地狱,胜似地狱;自己不是饿鬼,胜似饿鬼。如果还有感觉的话,我的自我感觉是:非人非鬼,亦人亦鬼。别人看自己是这样,自己看自己也是这样。不伦不类地而又亦伦亦类地套用一个现成的哲学名词:自己已经异化了。

  过去被认为是人的时候,我自己当然以人待己。我这个人从来不敢狂妄,我是颇有自知之明的。如果按照小孩子的办法把人分为好人和坏人的话,我毫不迟疑地把自己归人好人一类。就拿金钱问题来说吧。我一不吝啬,二不拜金。在这方面,我颇有一些优胜纪略。十几岁在济南时,有一天到药店去打药。伙计算错了账,多找给我了一块大洋。当时在小孩子眼中,一块大洋是一个巨大的财富。但是我立即退还给他,惹得伙计的脸一下子红了起来。这种心理我以后才懂得。一九四六年,我从海外回到祖国。卖了一只金表,寄钱给家里。把剩下的法币换成黄金。伙计也算错了账,多给了一两黄金。在当时一两黄金也算是一笔不小的财富。但是我也立即退还给他。在大人物名下,这些都是不足挂齿的小事。然而对一个像我这样平凡的人,也不能说一点意义都没有的。

  到了现在,自己一下子变成了鬼。最初还极不舒服,颇想有所反抗。但是久而久之,自己已习以为常。人鬼界限,好坏界限,善恶界限,美丑界限,自己逐渐模糊起来。用一句最恰当的成语,就是破罐子破摔。自己已经没有了前途,既然不想自杀,是人是鬼,由它去吧。别人说短论长,也由它去吧。

  而且自己也确有实际困难。聂记革委会赐给我和家里两位老太大的生活费,我靠它既不能,也不能。就是天天吃窝头就咸菜,也还是不够用的。天天劳动强度大,肚子里又没有油水,总是饥肠辘辘,想找点吃的。我曾几次跟在牢头禁子身后,想讨一点盛酱豆腐罐子里的汤,蘸窝头吃。有一段时间,我被分配到学生宿舍区二十八楼、二十九楼一带去劳动,任务是打扫两派武斗时破坏的房屋,捡地上的砖石。我记得在二十八楼南头的一间大房子里,堆满了杂物,乱七八糟,破破烂烂,什么都有。我忽然发现,在一个破旧的蒸馒头用的笼屉上有几块已经发了霉的干馒头。我简直是如获至宝,拿来装在口袋里,在僻静地方,背着监改的工人,一个人偷偷地吃。什么卫生不卫生,什么有没有细菌,对一个来说,这些都是毫无意义的了。

  我也学会了说谎。离开大院,出来劳动,肚子饿得不行的时候,就对带队的工人说,自己要到医院里去瞧病。得到允许,就专拣没有人走的小路,像老鼠似地回到家里,吃上两个夹芝麻酱的馒头,狼吞虎咽之后,再去干活,就算瞧了病。这行动有极大的危险性,倘若在路上邂逅碰上监改人员或汇报人员,那结果将是什么,用不着我说了。

  有一次我在路上拣到了几张钞票,都是一毛两毛的。我大喜过望,赶快揣在口袋里。以后我便利用只许低头走路的有利条件,看到那些昂首走路的自由民决不会看到的东西,曾拣到过一些钢镚儿。这又是意外的收获。我发现了一条重要的规律:在黑帮大院的厕所里,掉在地上的钢镚儿最多。从此别人不愿意进的厕所,反而成了我喜爱的地方了。

 

3

 

记得是在一九七八年,全国政协恢复活动后,我在友谊宾馆碰到一位参加革命很久的,在文艺界极负盛名的老干部,文化大革命前,我们同是全国政协社会科学组的成员,十多年不见,他见了我劈头第一句话就是:古人说:士可杀,不可辱文化大革命证明了:士可杀亦可辱’”。说罢,哈哈大笑。他是笑呢,还是哭?我却一点也笑不起来。在这位老干部心中,有多少郁积的痛苦,不是一清二楚了吗?

  有这种想法的,决不止这个老干部一人。我个人就有这样的想法。而且,我相信,中国的知识分子,也就是古代的所谓,绝大部分人都会有这种想法。士可杀,不可辱,这一句话表明了中国自古以来就有这种传统。我们比起外国知识分子来,在这方面更为敏感。

  我不禁想起了中国知识分子这一类人,既不是阶级,也不是阶层,想起了他们的历史和现状。在封建社会里,士列在士农工商之首。一向是进可以攻,退可以守,在社会上有崇高的地位。子生也晚,《儒林外史》中那样的知识分子,我没有见到过。军阀混战时期和国民党统治时期的知识分子,我是见到过的。不说别的,专就当时的大学教授而言,薪俸优厚,社会地位高。他们无形中养成了一种高人一等的优越感。存在决定意识,这是必然的。他们一般都颇为神气,所谓教授架子者便是。到了我当教授的时候,情况大大改变。国民党统治己到末日,通货膨胀达到了惊人的程度。教授实际的收入少得可怜。但是,身上那一件孔乙己的大褂还是披着的,社会地位还是有的。

  刚一解放,我同大部分教授一样,兴奋异常,觉得自己真是站起来了,自己获得了新生了。我们高兴得像小孩,幼稚得也像小孩。我们觉得解放区的天是明朗的天。我们看什么东西都红艳似玫瑰,光辉如太阳。

  但是,好景不长。在第一个大型的政治运动二反五反思想改造运动中,我在中盆里洗了一个澡,真好像是洗下来了不少污浊的东西,觉得身轻体健,尝到了思想改造的甜头。可是后面跟着来的政治运动,一个紧接一个,好像是有点喘不过气来。批判武训,批判《早春二月》,批判胡风,批判胡适,再加上肃反等等,马不停蹄,应接不暇。到了一九五七年的反右斗争,达到了一个空前的高潮。我虽然没有被裹进去,没有戴什么帽子;但是时时处处,自己的精神都处在极度紧张的状态中,日子过得并不愉快。从我的思想深处来看,我当时是赞成这些运动的,丝毫也没有否定的意思。在反右期间,我天天忙于参加批判会——我顺便说一句,当时还没有发明喷气式,批判会不像文化大革命中那么好看”——,忙于阅读批判的材料。但是,在我心里却逐渐升起了一片疑云:为什么人们的所作所为同在那前后发表的几篇最高指示,有些地方显得极不合拍呢?即使是这样,我对那一句最有名的话:是阳谋,不是阴谋,并没有产生怀疑。

  反右以后,仍然是马不停蹄,一个劲地搞运动,什么拔白旗等等。庐山会议以后,极左思想已经达到了顶点,却偏偏要来一个反右倾。三年困难时期,我自己同其他老知识分子一样,尽管天天饿肠辘辘,连半点不满意的想法都没有,更不用说说怪话了。连全国人民的精神面貌都是非常正常的,向上的。谁能说这样的人民,这样的知识分子不是世界上最优秀的呢?

  一九六六年开始的所谓无产阶级文化大革命是形势发展的必然结果。事后连原新北大公社的东语系一个教员都告诉我说,我本来能够躲过这一场灾难的。但是,我偏偏发了牛劲,自己跳了出来,终于得到了报应:被抄家,被打,被骂,被批斗,被关进了牛棚,差一点连命都赔上。我当时确曾自怨自艾过。但是现在我却有了另——个想法。文化大革命是一个千载难逢的盛事。如果我自己不跳出来,就决不可能亲自尝一尝这一场革命的滋味,决不可能了解这一场灾难究竟是什么样子。那将是绝对无法挽回的极大的憾事。

  关在牛棚里的时候,我看了很多,也想了很多。我逐渐感到其中有问题:为什么一定要这样折磨知识分子?知识分子身上毛病不少,缺点很多,但是十全十美的人又在哪里呢?我当时认识不高,思考问题肤浅片面。我没有责怪任何人,连对发动这一场革命的人也毫无责怪之意:我只是一个劲地深挖自己的灵魂。用现在间或用的一个词儿来说,就是原罪感。这是用在基督教徒身上的一个词儿,这里不过借用一下而己。

  别的老知识分子有没有这个感觉,我不知道。它表现在我身上却是很具体的。解放前,我认为一切政治都是肮脏的,决心不介入。我并不了解共产党,只是觉得国民党有点糟糕,非垮台不行。解放以后,我上面说到我在思想改造运动中的收获,其中心就是知道了并不是所有的政治都是肮脏的,共产党就不是。同时又觉得自己非常自私自利:中国人民浴血抗战,我自己却躲在万里之外,搞自己的名山事业。我认为自己那一点学问,那一点知识,是非常可耻的,如果还算得上学问和知识的话。有很长一段时间,我称自己为摘桃派,坐享胜利的果实。

  那么,怎么办呢?

  我有很多奇思怪想。我甚至希望能再发生一次抗日战争,给我一个机会,让我来表现一下。我一定能奋力参战,连牺牲自己的性命,我都能做得到。我读了很多描绘抗日战争或革命战争的小说,对其中那一些共产党员和革命战士不怕牺牲的精神,我崇拜得五体投地。我自己发誓向他们学习。这些当然都是幻想,即使难免有点幼稚可笑,然而却是真诚的。这能够表现出我当时的精神状态。

  谈到对领袖的崇拜,我从前是坚决反对的。我在国内时,看到国民党人对他们的领袖的崇拜,我总是嗤之以鼻。这位领袖,九·一八事件后我作为清华大学的学生到南京请愿时见过,他满口谎言,欺骗了我们。后来越想越不是味儿。我的老师陈寅恪先生对此公也不感兴趣。他的诗句:看花难近最高楼,可以为证。后来到了德国,正是法西斯猖獗之日。我看到德国人,至少是一部分人,见面时竟对喊:希特勒万岁!觉得异常可笑,难以理解。我认识的一位不到二十岁的德国姑娘,美貌非凡。有一次她竟对我说:如果我能同希特勒生一个孩子,那将是我毕生最大的光荣!我听了真是大吃一惊,觉得实在是匪夷所思。我有一个潜台词:我们中国人聪明,决不会干这样的蠢事。

  回国以后,仅仅隔了三年,中国就解放了。解放初期,我同其他一些老知识分子心情相同,我们那种兴奋、愉快,上面已经讲了一点。当时每年要举行两次游行庆祝,五一和十一,地点都在***。每次都是凌晨即起,从沙滩整队步行到东单一带的小胡同里等候,往往要等上几个小时。十点整,大会开始。我们的队伍也要走过***前,接受领袖的检阅。当时三座门还没有拆掉。在三座门东边时,根本看不到***城楼上的领导人。一转过三座门,看到领袖了,于是在数千人的队伍中立即爆发出震天动地的万岁声。最初,不管我多么兴奋,但是万岁却是喊不惯,喊不出来的。但是,大概因为我在这方面智商特高,过了没有多久,我就喊得高昂,热情,仿佛是发自灵魂深处的最强音。我完完全全拜倒在领袖脚下了。

  我在上面简短地但是真诚地讲了我自己思想转变的过程。一滴水中可以见大海,一粒沙中可以见宇宙。别的老知识分子可能同我差不多,至少是大同而小异。这充分证明了,中国老知识分子,年轻的更不必说了,是热爱我们伟大的祖国的。爱国主义是几千年来中国知识分子的传统。同其他国家的知识分子比较起来,这是中国知识分子的一个突出的特点。

  大梦谁先觉,平生我自知。我在梦觉方面智商是相当低的。一直到了十年浩劫,我身陷囹圄,仍然是拥护这一场浩劫的。西谚说:一切闪光的东西不都是金子。在这期间,我接触到派到学校来支左的解放军和工人。原来这都是我膜拜的对象。全国人民学习解放军工人阶级必须领导一切,我深信不疑,奉行唯谨。可是现在一经接触,逐渐发现他们中有的人政策观念奇低,而且作风霸道,个别的人甚至违法乱纪。我头上仿佛泼上了一盆凉水,顿时清醒过来。金无足赤,人无完人的道理,我是明白的。可是这样的作风竟然发生在我素所崇拜的人身上,我无论如何也没有想到。我们唯物主义者应该实事求是,光明磊落;花言巧语,文过饰非,是绝对不可取的。尽管我们知识分子身上毛病极多,同别人对比一下,难道我真就算是臭老九吗?

  我在上面罗哩罗嗦讲了一大篇,无非想说,文化大革命整知识分子,是完全没有道理的,是怎样花言巧语也掩盖不了的。对广大的受过迫害的知识分子来说,文化大革命并没有过去。再拿我自己来做个例子。我一方面庆幸我参加了文化大革命,被关进了牛棚,得以得到了极为难得的经验。但在另一方面.在我现在飞黄腾达到处听到的都是赞誉溢美之词之余,我心里还偶尔闪过一个念头:我当时应该自杀;没有自杀,说明我的人格不过硬,我现在是忍辱负重,苟且偷生。这种想法是非常不妙的。既然我有,我就直白地说了出来。




Ji XianlinJi Xianlin

Ji Xianlin was born in 1911 in the impoverished flatlands of Shandong province. After completing an undergraduate degree in European languages at Tsinghua University, Ji successfully competed for an exchange scholarship to the University of Göttingen, where he shifted his academic focus to Indology. Not long after returning to China after the Second World War, he founded Peking University’s Department of Eastern Languages, where he continued to teach for the rest of his career. Ji was a leading specialist in old Indo-European languages such as Sanskrit and Tocharian, but it was his nonfiction writings, such as Memories of the Cowshed, that made him an unlikely celebrity and public intellectual figure during the last decade of his life. Even Premier Wen Jiabao paid visits to the influential essayist, and made it known that he considered Ji a mentor.

Translated from ChineseChinese by Chenxin JiangChenxin Jiang

Chenxin Jiang studied literature at Princeton University. She has received  a 2011 PEN Translation Fund grant, as well as the 2011 Susan Sontag Prize for Translation, an award made each year to one translator under the age of thirty. Her translations have been published in Pathlight, Poetry London, World Literature Today, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and no man’s land. Chenxin was a 2011–12 candidate in the British Centre for Literary Translation’s mentoring scheme for emerging translators, mentored by Howard Curtis. She lives and works in Shanghai.