This article is the second part of a manuscript left by my grandfather Xiangrong Cai on August 9, 1984. Some parts of the text could not be recognized and had to be omitted or guessed at, and these are not specified individually. For ease of reading, some punctuation has been modified and some subheadings have been added.
During the “Cultural Revolution” when my history was being scrutinized, the young “rebels” interrogated me: “With your background and only sixteen years old, how could you join the party?” All I could say at the time was: “That’s just how it was!” Upon their repeated investigations, confirming that I indeed joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1938, they were very surprised, “That’s not easy!” But they still couldn’t fully understand. They can’t be blamed for this, because when I joined the party, most of them had not yet come into this world.
So, how did I join the party?
First, let’s start with the internal reasons. From a young age, I loved to read “leisure books”, and by elementary school, I had read swordsman novels such as “The Seven Heroes and Five Gallants” and “Three Immortal Swords”. In the first and second grades of junior high school, I finished “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, “Outlaws of the Marsh”, and “Journey to the West”. I didn’t finish “Dream of the Red Chamber” until the third grade. These readings increased my knowledge and cultivated my literary taste. More importantly, characters such as Song Wu, Chong Lin, Baoyu Jia, Fei Zhang, and Yun Zhao left a deep impression on my mind, and played a catalytic role in shaping my rebellious character. Forming a habit of reading from a young age was a key to me later reading progressive books and accepting revolutionary thoughts.
In the winter of 1936, I returned to my hometown, Langzhong County, from Chengdu to attend school. Unexpectedly, the spread of progressive culture in this small city in northern Sichuan was even more widespread than in Chengdu. Especially some progressive books, which could be publicly sold, I could buy. It was when I was very young in Chengdu that I first saw Xun Lu’s “Blessings”, which I found intriguing at the time, but I couldn’t grasp its profound implications. Back in my hometown, at a small bookstore named “Zuixin Bookstore” (which, as the name suggests, is a place to spread new culture2), I first saw the “Selected Works of Xun Lu”, “Selected Works of Moruo Guo”, “Selected Works of Yanbing Shen”, “Selected Works of Tianyi Zhang”, as well as “Selected Works of Wang Luyan” and “Selected Works of Ziping Zhang” and so on3. They immediately attracted me. Coming into contact with these books was like someone who usually drinks plain water tasting a cup of aromatic tea for the first time. There was a shop assistant named Siqin Tian in the bookstore4. Seeing that I loved these “new books”, he allowed me to sit on a long bench at the store entrance to “read first, buy later”, with no obligation to purchase. I would read when I had time after school, and on Sundays, I would read for several hours. Gradually, the teachings of Confucianism and Mencius, the so-called “Premier’s Last Will”, “Three Principles of the People”, “Five-Power Constitution” and so on were thrown to the back of my mind. By this time, I was already fourteen years old. I re-read “Blessings” and began to understand its implications. I felt sympathetic towards the character of “Xianglin’s wife”. Comparing it to the reality of life at home, I realized that there were people like her all over my hometown. After borrowing and reading, I finally asked my family for money to buy the aforementioned collections. Enlightened by these books, my thoughts underwent significant changes. I developed a strong dissatisfaction with the reality of the old society. I lost faith in my family and began to explore how to live my life.
My actions caught the attention of two people, one was Siqin Tian, a learned man who was a few years older than me. Another was the young son of the bookstore owner, Weiquan Wang (now named Xi Chen, working in the State Council’s Rule of Law Bureau). Tian saw that I was truly “intoxicated”5 and occasionally lent me their newly arrived books. Sometimes he also talked about his views on the content of the books, and I would ask him for advice on things I didn’t understand. He was one of the pioneers of my thoughts. Another was the young son of the bookstore owner, Weiquan Wang (now named Xi Chen, working in the State Council’s Rule of Law Bureau)6. Seeing that I liked new books, he didn’t have the airs of a “big brother” and kept initiating conversations with me7. Through our conversations, I found his thoughts to be relatively progressive. Soon, he lent me a news book (I’ve forgotten the name), which contained Changjiang Fan’s “Journey to the North of Shaanxi”, and repeatedly reminded me to return it after reading and not to lend it to others. Reading this article made me overjoyed. It turns out that on this land of China, there is such “Ark” with fresh air. Afterwards, I borrowed more from him, and he provided me with Edgar Snow’s “Red Star Over China”8 and “The Long March of 25,000 Miles”9. These three books, coupled with other factors, ended my confusion and misery, and I felt that I had found the path of light. Since then, I have been yearning wholeheartedly for the new life in Yan’an.
Pushed by the Times
Secondly, the momentum of the times also played a role. From 1935 to 1936, as the Japanese invaders continued to advance and the Nationalist Party kept retreating, we could see that a disaster was about to befall the Chinese nation. After the Xi’an Incident in the winter of 1936, the Communist Party’s proposition to unite against the Japanese increasingly resonated with people. All these greatly influenced my thinking. After the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in July 1937, I was no longer able to solely focus on studying. I decisively participated in anti-Japanese and national salvation activities.
In the winter of 1937, the local county government assigned a military instructor named Youji Zhang to establish a “War Training Team” at Langzhong Middle School. The squad and team leaders were all selected from team leaders and deputies of the local militia10. The male and female students were each formed into a squadron. Youji Zhang served as the commander. The male students made up one squadron, led by a man named Muyi Hou, known as “One-Eyed Dragon”. Using the guise of “national crisis” and “wartime training”, they propagated reactionary rhetoric about “one party, one government, one leader”. Their fascistic, old-style military methods aroused the dissatisfaction of many students.
Some progressive students11, taking advantage of Zhang’s voyeuristic behavior (peeping at female students undressing under the pretext of “inspection”), opposed Zhang’s thuggish actions and decided to take collective action on December 12. That day, during mealtime, students smashed their food trays and refused to eat, loudly shouting slogans against “hoodlum Youji Zhang”, and plastering posters detailing Zhang’s thuggish behavior in locations such as the New Market, Baihua Alley, and Guanyue Temple Street.
The spontaneous student protest resonated greatly among the students and garnered sympathy from the public. Some parents, especially those of the female students, questioned the school. But because of the home environment, lack of fighting experience, and lack of the Communist Party’s leadership, the county government managed to suppress it using a combination of soft and hard measures.
After the incident, I was noted for being one of the ringleaders. The principal, Keyong Wu, issued a notice stating my “executive power” and the decision to recognize my merit, and hypocritically added “…” in an attempt to make me “repent and turn over a new leaf”!
The failure of this student protest gave me a significant jolt, making me feel I could no longer stay in this place. In early 1938, I decided to run away to Yan’an, but the plan was exposed before I could leave and I was caught by my family. Among the female students, Shunyuan He12 was also held back. Only a few people, including Zhongyi Zhang, managed to reach Yan’an before me.
The People’s Drama Society
Third, I participated in the anti-Japanese and national salvation movements, influenced by the Party. At that time in Langzhong, under the leadership of the Communist Party, there were two national salvation organizations: one was the “National Crisis Propaganda Group”, with Weiquan Wang, Zhongyi Zhang, Shunyuan He and others participating in its activities; the other was called the “People’s Drama Society”, where Jianhua Yang, Xiang He, Maoji Tang, and Hailai He, among others, were active13. My good friends Liangxin Yan and Lisheng Zuo and I also joined. The “People’s Drama Society” was based on Baihua Alley Street. It was initially (around 1935) a purely recreational organization, where teachers who enjoyed Sichuan opera and Beijing opera would gather to perform every Saturday. Later, it was renamed the “People’s Drama Mutual Aid Society”. In February 1938, the Communist Party organization in Sichuan’s Langzhong was reestablished, and many Party members joined, transforming it into a Party-led organization conducting cultural activities for anti-Japanese and national salvation propaganda, and it was renamed “People’s Drama Society”.
After my plan to go to Yan’an failed, amidst my despondency, I focused on anti-Japanese activities. Seeing the serious national crisis and the ineffective anti-Japanese effort of the Nationalist Party, they appreciated my passion for acting and my ability to play the Qianjinban14 and Lianhualuo15, and I was invited by Maoji Tang, a Communist Party member in the People’s Drama Society, to join. Along with me, my good friend Liangxin Yan from junior high school, who also loved performance arts, joined as my assistant for the Lianhualuo. Another classmate, Lisheng Zuo (who passed away after the Liberation), also participated. In the “People’s Drama Society”, we went to the countryside every Sunday for anti-Japanese propaganda.
Liangxin Yan and I used self-directed Lianhualuo and Qianjinban as tools, with program content including “Unity against Foreign Aggression”, “Fight till the End”, “Victory of Pingxingguan”, and “Victory of Taierzhuang”. Sadly, I’ve forgotten most of those. Sometimes, we would also collect donations of warm clothes for anti-Japanese soldiers. In these activities, Liangxin Yan and I were active participants, attracting people’s attention. However, we also faced criticism from our families. Once, after performing Qianjinban with Yan, my father sternly questioned me: “Rebel! Don’t you feel ashamed?” Some classmates also ridiculed me for liking to show off.
But I found that Maoji Tang was very “left-leaning” in his thinking. I often talked with him, and he introduced me to some progressive books. In the spring and summer of 1938, Langzhong already had the “Liberation” magazine. He gave me a few issues to read. Both Liangxin Yan and I felt very excited after reading them.
Joining the “Minxian” Team (The Pioneer Team of the Chinese Nation for Anti-Japanese and National Salvation) 16
I spent about three months conducting propaganda activities in the People’s Drama Society, during which I got to know some progressive figures, such as Jianhua Yang, Xiang He, etc. They constantly instilled in me some of the Party’s propositions, such as the anti-Japanese national united front, etc. Of course, the person I interacted with the most was Maoji Tang. Tang, a Hui Muslim, whose father was a military officer in the warlord Tian Songyao’s forces, was very talkative and was popularly known as “Tang Kezi”17. He never hid his Communist-leaning views, and I had long suspected that he might be a Communist. I tested him a few times, but he always denied it. Instead, he turned it around and said that I was a Communist.
One day, he came to my house and asked me if I would like to join a group called “Minxian”, an outer organization of the Communist Party. I readily agreed. I mentioned joining the party again, and he responded: “Don’t rush! I haven’t found it yet. Let’s do this, you look for it, I look for it, whoever finds it first can introduce the other to the Party.” I guessed that this was a test of my intentions. He asked me to recruit Liangxin Yan. Yan, upon hearing about this, also agreed enthusiastically. So on June 19, 1938, we joined the team in Baihua Alley Street, where Tang processed our admissions. Lisheng Zuo and others joined at the same time. The three of us formed a small group, and I was the group leader.
The Minxian team in Langzhong was organized by Yahui Xiao (also known as Ling Xiao, and Yikeng Wu in Yan’an, the spouse of Xue Wu, deceased), the fifth daughter of Zegen Xiao18, who had participated in the December 9th student movement in Beiping. It was organized in the winter of 1937. Later, I heard that they had held a meeting, and the earliest members included Yun Yang19, Zhixue Xiao, Linlian Xiang, Shunyuan He, Weiquan Wang, Zhongyi Zhang, and others. (One incident occurred not long after Yan joined the team; he drowned while bathing in the Jialing River on July 12, 1938.)
After joining the team, I became more active in national salvation activities. I remember when the news of the Eighth Route Army’s first battle at Pingxingguan reached Langzhong, both the People’s Drama Society and the “War Training Group” posted it in the form of wall newspapers, which had a great impact. We also developed programs and propagated them everywhere.
In early August20, school was about to end for the summer vacation. One time after returning from rural propaganda, Maoji Tang told me, “I’ve found the Communist Party!” (In fact, he had joined the party a few months before graduation.) I asked him to introduce me, and he agreed. Since then, he spent several afternoons introducing me to the knowledge of the Party. In the end, he even taught me how to take the oath to join the Party. He gave me a task: to recruit Liangxin Yan. I happily accepted this task. Yan and I had long shared the same goals and aspirations, so he quickly agreed to join the Party with me. I taught him what Tang had taught me.
Just as we were preparing to hold the party admission ceremony, my good friend Liangxin Yan drowned while swimming in the Jialing River on July 12. This was undoubtedly a heavy blow to me. The timing of the party admission ceremony was also postponed. Due to his active participation in anti-Japanese propaganda during his lifetime, which had a certain influence among young students, the People’s Drama Society held a memorial service for him on August 15 at the Dragon King Temple outside the east gate, with nearly a hundred people attending. The memorial service was quite grand. In addition to colleagues from the People’s Drama Society and the War Training Group, Yan’s friends and relatives, even the famous “Old Master Kong” (ZhenSheng Kong) from Langzhong21, sent their condolences. I still remember the elegiac couplet I sent: the first line was, “Why needlessly risk your life, ask who will comfort the white-haired in the high hall at dusk,” and the second line was, “We parted just half a day ago, sigh, the deep feelings of thrice planting are all entrusted to the eastward flowing river.”
Joining the Party
August 19, 1938 is a day I will never forget in my life. I was only sixteen years old then. Maoji Tang notified me in advance to go to his house, saying that a representative from the higher-level was coming to accept me into the Party. His house was located at No. 7 Baihua Alley Street, next to my house (I lived at No. 4) which was a mansion of Tang, the military supply officer. As I entered, I saw Tang’s wife, Shuzhen Ma (a Hui Muslim, died in ‘83), sitting at the door sewing a shoe sole, which was clearly a lookout. She said, “They are waiting for you in the living room!”
Upon entering, I saw a short man in a long gown wearing a doctoral hat, he was Xiang He. The “representative from the higher level” turned out to be him. There was another person sitting next to him, my classmate from the fourth grade, Lisheng Zuo. This took me by surprise. He was born into poverty and was always burying his head in books, a man of few words, rarely caring about politics. How could he also want to join the Communist Party? Seeing the look on my face, Maoji Tang laughed and said, “Lisheng Zuo is very revolutionary in his thinking, he is like a mute eating dumplings—he knows how many dumplings he has eaten.” In this turbulent era, people’s ideological changes are happening so fast, it’s truly surprising.
The joining ceremony was presided over by Maoji Tang. There were four parts in total. The first part was to pay silent tribute to the martyrs of our party (three minutes of silence). The second part was for Maoji Tang, as the introducer, to introduce the resumes of the two of us and the results of the organization’s investigation, and then he said, “Zhenyu Cai and Lisheng Zuo have voluntarily joined our Party, and I am willing to be their introducer.”
The third part was for me to express my desire to join the Party. I recited almost word for word what Maoji Tang had taught me beforehand. The gist of it was, “I voluntarily join the Communist Party, to fight for the cause of communism to the end, and never betray it.” “Obey the organization, abide by iron discipline” “Keep the secrets of the Party,” and so on. Lisheng Zuo also said basically the same thing.
The fourth part was a speech by the representative of the higher-level party. Comrade Xiang He first asked us, “When joining the Communist Party might mean being beheaded, are you afraid?” “Not afraid!” We answered in unison. Then he, on behalf of the Party organization in Langzhong, “welcomes Comrades Cai and Zuo to join our Party!” This sentence hit me hard, and I was extremely excited. This was the first time I was called a “comrade” by the leadership of the Party. From then on, I became a vanguard fighter of the proletariat! In the following years, I have never been able to forget this sentence!
After that, he talked about the nature of the Party (mainly the vanguard), the difference between the Communist Party and the Nationalist Part, and he also explained what communism is—the “ultimate goal”. He explained that communism is “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work”, giving the example of the Soviet Union. But this is not the ultimate goal, the ultimate goal is “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. This is the highest program. The lowest program is the “Anti-Japanese National United Front”. He explained the rationale for implementing the “Nationalist-Communist Cooperation”.
Finally, he particularly emphasized the secret discipline of the Party. He said that not only under the enemy’s severe punishment and torture, when faced with the threat of being beheaded, can one not admit to being a member of the Communist Party, but even to one’s own family, one should not reveal one’s identity as a Party member. Without the permission of the organization, one cannot have horizontal relationships with other comrades in the Party. As for you two, since you’re going to Nanchong soon, for now, only maintain relations with Maoji Tang.
From my first contact with the Party to finding the Party (from 14 to 16 years old), it took three years of effort. Thus, I finally transformed from a progressive young person into a qualitatively different individual.
After a few days (on the 24th), I went from Langzhong to Nanchong to study. My new life began!
This experience shows that the 1930s was a boiling decade. Every progressive young person, through the dissemination of the Party’s ideas and the Party’s guidance, led a large number of justice-minded young intellectuals, regardless of their experiences, onto the revolutionary path. It was the inevitability of the times and the inevitability of life choices.
Subheadings without special markings are all added by me. ↩︎
“Zuixin (醉新)” is homophonous with “The newest” in Chinese. ↩︎
Both were famous writers of the time. ↩︎
The names mentioned in the text are often unrecognizable and need to be guessed, this will not be separately noted each time. ↩︎
“Zuixin (醉新)” is homophonous with “Being intoxicated” in Chinese. ↩︎
This part repeats the preceding text. ↩︎
At this point, the text is illegible, and the meaning is guessed based on the context. This situation occurs many times, and will not be specifically noted each time. ↩︎
Edgar Parks Snow, an American journalist, known for his works during the Chinese Revolution. ↩︎
Refers to “Red Star Over China.” ↩︎
In 1933, the Nationalist Government promulgated the “Military Service Act,” which stipulated that all men aged 18 to 45 should serve in the national militia when not in regular military service. The squad leader was a position in the national militia. See this article. ↩︎
Names are listed here, but they are unrecognizable. ↩︎
A traditional form of narrative art from Sichuan Province. ↩︎
A traditional form of Chinese narrative art. ↩︎
This subheading is from the original text. ↩︎
In Sichuan dialect, “Blowing Kezi(吹壳子)” means to chat. ↩︎
Zegen Xiao ran a vinegar shop in Langzhong. ↩︎
The time here may be incorrect. It should have occurred before Yan Liangyi’s death in July. ↩︎
A descendant of Confucius, he joined the Tongmenghui. ↩︎