Excerpt from Autobiography (1)

The beginning of Ying’s autobiography:


Chapter 1: My First Year Behind Bars

I’ve grown a bit tired of the kind of autobiography that begins at the beginning and ends at the end. So mine starts in the middle. The most interesting part of my life, I’m afraid, is that I was arrested in 1968 and imprisoned for three years.

The Cultural Revolution was the most destructive social upheaval modern China has endured. My wife and I were arrested and thrown into prison as suspected spies of this or that foreign power. Our home was broken up. My 16-year-old daughter was sent to the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, while my son, barely eight years old, had to be left behind with my mother, who lived on a meager pension. Our home was ransacked three times by Red Guards claiming to be from different factions. There was, however, one thing I was grateful for: the time I spent in prison taught me more about China’s true state of affairs than I have learned during the rest of my life.

I was sent to several prisons during those three years, and I was quite naughty, appointing myself to try to help other prisoners because it was clear to me that at least ninety percent of them were people who were falsely accused and never should have been arrested in the first place. I watched many prisoners take their own lives or go insane, and I became determined that that would not happen to me. I decided I would use my time in prison to learn as much as I could from the other prisoners’ backgrounds and experiences, and that I would survive by using my wits and my sense of humor. Prison became an exercise in anthropology, and a kind of intriguing and amusing game.

I think if there is a higher purpose in writing this memoir, it is this: to reveal that a life that might be considered full of misery, making everyone feel sorry for you, is not at all what I experienced. People have a natural tendency to prefer something more pleasant. Even the caveman invented games to amuse himself. That’s what I did, too. And if this autobiography is worth reading or writing, it’s partially for that: how to spend one’s time pleasantly in prison during the Cultural Revolution… one of those “how-to” books.


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