Excerpt from Introduction (3)

An excerpt from Claire Conceison’s introduction:

What to Put In and What to Leave Out

Ying Ruocheng was reluctant to discuss his efforts as a government informant in his autobiography. People who knew him personally, as well as ordinary Chinese who only knew of him as a celebrity, sometimes referred to him as a “spy” in conversations with me, so I inevitably had to raise the subject with him. When I did, he expressed concern about endangering others by sharing this information publicly, and he also feared that Western readers would not understand how he could have been forming deep friendships with foreigners living in China while also submitting reports about them to the Chinese government behind their backs.

“How would average Western readers understand the mentality of young Chinese living under the Japanese occupation for so many years?” he asked me. “How would they understand that I willingly rendered my services to the new regime? I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite.” In struggling further with this dilemma, he said, “On the other hand, I think I should let them understand the young people of that age, of that time, especially during the Korean War.” As a result, in chapter 2, Ying offers some details on how he was first approached as a young actor by high-ranking communist official Peng Zhen (then Mayor of Beijing) and asked to relay information he could learn from conversations with foreign acquaintances. What Ying Ruocheng describes as occasional dinners during which he offered relatively harmless facts that Peng could have gleaned from reading English-language newspapers was actually far more extensive intelligence-gathering conducted with his wife that continued for most of his life. It is not hard to understand why he did not want to divulge this information in his autobiography, particularly in light of the questions he poses above. In order to understand why Ying Ruocheng and Wu Shiliang would serve as covert agents for the new communist government, one must grasp both the atmosphere of the times and the profound personal and national legacy Ying felt called to fulfill…

Ying and Wu were first approached in 1950 by public security agents in their dormitory at Qinghua University, where they had become good friends with American teachers Allyn and Adele Rickett. Warning them that the Ricketts were spies, the agents sought Ying and Wu’s assistance in gathering enough evidence to arrest them. The foreign couple subsequently spent several years in a Chinese prison and published a book about their experience upon their return to the United States entitled Confessions of Two American Spies. As Ying Ruocheng recounts in chapter 5, he and his wife met as juniors at Qinghua, during the year that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would finally unify the nation after more than two decades of division caused by civil war against Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT and the reign of warlords that preceded it. During his final conversation with his son, Ying Qianli had expressed sympathy with the communist cause and an intention to participate. Ying Ruocheng, like most talented young students of his generation, greeted the CCP’s victory with excitement, and his Qinghua drama group helped to spread the good news as the People’s Liberation Army troops arrived and liberated Beijing. Soon after Ying and Wu joined the Beijing People’s Art Theatre in 1950, spoken drama devoted itself to the “Resist USA, Support Korea” (kangMei yuanChao) propaganda effort of the Korean War. Under these circumstances, it is understandable that Ying Ruocheng and Wu Shiliang would regard it as not only their duty, but also an honor, to serve the new regime using their English language skills and networks with foreigners…

Why did Ying and Wu continue working for “Section Two” of the Public Security Bureau throughout their lives? And why did they never choose to live abroad after the Cultural Revolution, when they easily could have? The simple answer is that Ying Ruocheng loved China, both the China his grandfather had helped to build and the China from which his father had been forcibly exiled. He saw it as his special talent and his duty to foster understanding between China and the West—through theatre, translation, and politics—by staying in China and not leaving when things got tough. The older he grew, the more he enjoyed traveling abroad for special projects, but he always came home again…

Their son Ying Da remembers that before each picnic or dinner party, agents from Section Two would come to their home and meet with his parents, and he was always sent to his room to do homework so they could talk in private. After the party, Ying and Wu wrote reports that were subsequently submitted to the Beijing Public Security Bureau. A brief example of the kind of reports they filed is a 25-page document numbered “Internal 67-28”—identified on the cover as an early stage of informing on someone named Yi Wensi, dated February 1964. It turns out “Yi Wensi” is Sir Richard J. Evans, British ambassador to China from 1984-1988 (during the negotiation of the transfer of Hong Kong) and author of the 1993 book Deng Xiaoping and the Making of Modern China. He was first posted in Beijing in 1955-57 and then again in 1964, the year this particular report by “Wu Ying” was filed. They remained good friends during Evans’ term as ambassador—Evans even sold his car to Ying Da in 1987 when Ying Da returned from graduate school in the United States just before his mother died. Striking an altogether different tone, the title of the report his parents submitted to public security officials was“Yi Wensi zhanyi” or “The Battle against Evans.”

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