While living Aunt Spalding, I found many restrictions which would become detrimental.
Chairman Mao championed Three-Good Student (sanhao, 三好学生 思想品德好、学习好、身体好) since 1953. The model students should excel at moral character, learning and health. Each class at school would elect a couple usually a boy and a girl at end of each semester. It was an honor to have. I did really well in school and was elected the very first semester. I was happy and proud, given the fact I was transferred from the countryside. I felt I found a place where I belonged. Not have to worry or hiding from the dark shadow of my family any more. With my own effort, I could make a difference. Actually at that younger age, ‘successful’ was vague, China did not encourage ‘success’ and ‘ambition’, conformity was essential. All I wanted was being the best student in school. When I brought home the certificate, instead of a word of encouragement, Aunt Spalding was horrified,
“Oh my. You should not have attract attention to yourself.” She made me to return the certificate.
When my home room teacher picked me to tutor math, she ordered me to refuse.
“You enjoy the limelight just like your Mom. See how much good did it do for her? I won’t let you to follow her footstep.”
I was very conflicted. I had been called lair, theft and no good for all my life. Limelight was the least item on my mind but to prove and improve myself. I wanted to do the math tutor even I was so so at math (full story here .. and the sheer fact that the teacher picked me is still a mystery to me, till this day). I knew I was capable of doing more and I wanted to do more.
Our reading material was very limited. All foreign literatures was taboo, even the Russians during the Cultural Revolution while the home produced books were stereotyped, bore and dull (千篇一律). Once, after much difficulty, through a connection, (I think the illegal weapon sales is probably easier than us to securing a good book!) I was able to borrow Nikolai Ostrovsky’s How the Steel Was Tempered (钢铁是怎么炼成的. Other books, such as 《牛虻》 Gadfly by a New Yorker? 高尔基 Maxim Gorky 《斯巴达克斯》 were immensely popular.). Holding it as the most precious treasure, I began to read hungrily at home. I did not even hear Aunt Spalding come in. The book looked old because it was old and read by some many people. So she knew it was not my school book. She snatched it from me,
“Why are you reading those kind of books? DIDN’T I warn you many times not to read them? You’re asking for trouble!”
She was about to torn the book into shred.
“NOOOO!” I screamed.
I had been docile and quiet, took many unreasonable demands and abuses. Aunt Spalding treated me well, with decency. Her leniency had given me hope, had given me a taste of what fairness and freedom was. So that moment made me snap, made me to fight for myself. For the book which was borrowed, I had to return it to the source. For the right that I thought I would want to enjoy. For the rage that had been simmering inside of me. I was sick and tired of hearing I was following my Mom’s footstep to doom. It had become a such obstacles that began to suffocate me. I did not know where I got the gut, I snatched it back from her, and held it tight behind my back. She was stunned, and looking up at me and screamed, “How dare you to act like a barbarian? You let me down. 你辜负了我的一片好心 You
betrayal me kindness. I’m very disappointed.” She began to sob, and continued to rant,
“Why was I so blind? Not listening to others? Everyone tells me you’re a lousy kid, a liar, 白眼狼/忘恩负义之人 an ungrateful wolf. I waste my time with you. ..” [those were the words she also used in her letter to my dad dated 1975.08.05]
I would not have given it another thought, taken it at the face value that she wanted to protect me from doom. But a few months later, one composition made the round at our school. The writer was my daily playmate who lived next door. The topic was to write about someone interesting. The person he chose was, Aunt Spalding. Read the story here
It was China. It was me, a kid without parents.
Regardless right or wrong, the little ungrateful barbarian was shown the door the summer of 1975 when the semester was over.