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"Life starts at Sixteen" memoir, 1994
Liu Ping

abstract: In a manuscript entitled "Life starts at sixteen" dated June 1994, Liu Ping described her experiences as a Rusticated Youth in Inner Mongolia. Ending paragraph of the memoir: "These five years were the most precious years of my youth. They were also the most difficult as well as the happiest five years in my life journey. No words can clearly describe the impact of these five years on my life."

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Life Starts at Sixteen
By Liu Ping

In the early autumn of 1969, I boarded a train to Inner Mongolia Production and Construction Corp. August 28th was my sixteenth birthday when the train arrived at the railway station of Hohhot.
The sixteenth year of age is commonly regarded as the flowery age today. However, we sixteen-year-olds, still not adults yet, had to undergo a thorough transformation from head to toe. Those of us, the so-called graduates of junior middle schools in 1969, were merely graduates from primary schools. With enforced labels of "Educated Youth", we got dragged into the nation-wide great waves of the "Down to the Countryside" movement.
On the day I left Beijing, my mother and a few classmates went to see me off at the Beijing Railway Station. As the train started to move, cries from both on board and on the platform drowned

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the clamoring sounds of gongs and drums. My fellow travelers on board cried and shouted themselves blue in the face while I was sitting quietly and frozen in a corner seat, untouched at all by this painful parting scene. When the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution broke out, I, at the age of 13, had experienced parting with my father who committed suicide. (On August 6, 1966, my father died of political persecution.) Having gone through the "baptism" of this great storm, I no longer shed tears easily although I was sixteen, an age when teenage girls are prone to cry.

I. An Independent Travel at Sixteen

We got off the train at Hohhot Station. Large trucks drove us together with our luggage to the Research Institute of Animal Husbandry. We stayed in those "rooms" which were actually the emptied horse stables. It was hard to imagine that those horses, targets of the research, lived in the

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stables which were as good as people's living quarters. The horse stable looked very much like an office building. Each room was occupied by one horse, known as one horse stall. There was a cement horse feeder in each horse stall, which was the only device distinguishing a horse stall from a room for a human being.
Right across from the Research Institute, sits the Hohhot Plant of Chemical Fiber which was then under construction. After our arrival at Hohhot, we immediately participated in the construction. Our group of youths, teenage boys and girls, assisted at the construction site by transporting sand and stones with carts.
We stayed here for a month. In mid-October, a month after our arrival, we received orders from high up that we should depart the plant in Hohhot and continue our trip further north. Our destination was Wulate Front Banner, Wulan Charbu League (an administrative division of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, corresponding to a prefecture).
Before the garrison was relieved, we were given three days off. Those youth from Hohhot region could return home for reunions. I could use

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these three days to visit my elder sister, who was sent to live and work in a production brigade of Tumote Left Banner, one hundred li 1 from Hohhot. I asked for leave from the Company and set out on the trip by myself. This was the first independent travel by myself in my sixteen years of life.
After a short trip on the train, I arrived at Bikeqi Railway Station. When I disembarked the train, it was already dark. I was told by the locals that there was no transportation to go to my sister's place, Beishizhou People's Commune. I would have to stay overnight and wait for the next day in the hope of getting a ride.
As a stranger in a strange place and in total darkness, I, thrown into such a shabby town, felt lonely, helpless and desperate. Seeing that I was standing alone at a total loss, a kind-hearted man told me that a hotel was not too far away where I could stay overnight.

1. Li: 1 li equals .5 kilometers or 2 li equals 1 kilometer.

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I found the hotel and checked in. What a "hotel" this was! A couple of old and shabby single-story houses, several wooden beds together with a wooden table were lying in the rooms. The pillows, quilts and beddings were oily, filthy and disgusting. As the only female guest in the "hotel", I locked the door of the room, sat stiff and dull on the side of the bed, waiting for daybreak. After a while, I got sleepy and laid down on the side of the bed. It felt like a very long night. I was exhausted, but could not fall asleep. Any little sounds outside put me on high alert and I pricked up my ears. I relaxed when the sounds disappeared. Dawn finally came! I walked out of the "hotel" and set out on my trip to Beishizhou Commune.
It was a dirt road with fields of crops on both sides.

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I walked alone with all of the surroundings in dead silence and nobody in sight.
The trip was about thirty li from Bikeqi Railway Station to Nanshizhou Village of Beishizhou Commune. Having walked from dawn to sunrise, my two legs got heavier and heavier. I ran into some fellow travelers but did not see any carts passing by.
I finished this thirty-li trip in one stretch, not knowing how many hours I had walked. When I walked into this strange village following the guidance of the locals, I felt I was returning home. Although it was my first time here and it was not my home, everything here including the houses, plants, fields seemed familiar and intimate to me. That was because my sister lived here and it was her home.

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Naturally it became mine as well. I was finally home after the long and arduous journey.
My sister left Beijing in 1968 just a step ahead of me. I have not seen her for over a year. I was so excited at the thought of seeing her in minutes and in such a small village on the Gobi Desert thousands of li from Beijing that my heart was beating out of my throat. The first thing I would share with her was the painful and difficult journey from Hohhot to here.
Guided by a local, I finally found the living quarters of the rusticated youth. I saw the friends and classmates of my sister who were sent down here in one batch. But my sister wasn't here! My sister's friend Xiaoye came to inform me that my sister had been infected with acute hepatitis and was hospitalized at Hohhot Municipal Hospital of Infectious Diseases. What a surprising head-on blow! Having travelled with tremendous hardship for the last two days, I finally arrived at my sister's village, only to find out that she was at my starting point, Hohhot! The intoxicating happy scene that I imagined

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about how we would hug each other and jump, dance and sing with joy was shattered into pieces! Worries, anxieties, disappointment and grievance, all sorts of feelings welled up in my heart! Despite my trembling legs after the thirty li trip on foot, I wished I could turn around right away and rush back to the railway station! Initially I was planning to spend as much time as possible with my sister. However, the unanticipated events already cost me two days!
My sister's classmates and friends tried their best to comfort me and persuade me not to worry. They asked me to stay overnight here because it was impossible to catch a train back to Hohhot even if I returned to the station immediately.
In the evening, my sister's classmate took me to visit the home of Qiao Cunju. Grandpa Qiao received me like a special guest and cooked me sweet pancakes, which was the best local delicacy only reserved for highest honored guests or special local festivals.

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The locals here saved the rationed sugar and oil and kept them for special occasions. The pancakes were delicious, but I could not quite tell the taste as my heart was heavily preoccupied. In his simple, honest, and kind way, Grandpa Qiao showed me his sincerest welcome and hospitality, which soothed my miserable and dreary mind in his small but warm house.
Amidst the gentle autumn rain, I stayed overnight in the Nanshizhou Village. The next morning saw me return to Bikeqi Station with Xiaoye on her bicycle. The dirt road after rain became muddy. Although the mudguard was removed from the bicycle, the wheels repeatedly got stuck with mud. We had to stop many times on the way to remove the mud with our fingers. We had to carry the bicycle on our shoulders where it was extremely muddy. We took turns riding the bicycle. I could not say whether we rode the bicycle, or the bicycle rode us.

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After an exhausting and messy journey, I finally managed to catch the Hohhot-bound train.
As the train began to move, Xiaoye waved to me at the platform. I felt bad that she had to repeat the same battle with mud on her way back. "Goodbye! My friend! Your selfless help at times of need will forever be remembered!" I was murmuring to myself.
After getting off the train, I rushed to the hospital. When I finally saw my pale, sick and frail sister in her bed, I was heart-broken!
We finally got to see each other! But we must break up again soon! I had to part with her in no time because I had to return to our Company in a couple of hours. The garrison was scheduled to leave Hohhot for our new destination.

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I was to go. My heart was as heavy as it could be. We would soon be in a different corner of the world after this short meeting. No one knew when our next meeting would be. During those precarious times, nobody could ever predict his tomorrow; nobody could ever control his own destiny. Everybody was like a leaf floating wherever the revolutionary storm takes it.
I had to go. My tears blurred my eyes as I was walking out of the hospital. On the road alone returning to my military unit, I cried impassionedly and forcefully although I hardly shed tears easily these days. I cried at the scene where I saw my sister; I cried at my sister getting so sick yet with no one on her side; I cried at the hard time that I underwent these three days; and I cried at the misfortunes falling on our heads these years, one after another!

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After crying out loud along the way, I dried my tears as I approached our camping site. At that moment, I felt that I had gone through another battle of hardship and bitterness. Fearless now, I felt that I was ready to confront all future disasters no matter what they are.
Having returned, I saw my fellow comrades were all set and ready to go. I was absent for three days and hadn't packed anything yet. People helped me pack up my suitcase and I rolled up my beddings and other things in a rush. In no time, a call for assembly to depart was sounded.
I was once again aboard a train. A fellow member handed me a letter, which was delivered to the Company on the day when I left Hohhot for Tumote Banner to visit my sister. Nobody knew why it was not given to me until today. This was the very letter from my sister in which she informed me that she was hospitalized at the Hohhot Hospital for Infectious Diseases. At the end, she said: "Burn the letter when you finish reading

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and wash your hands thoroughly." My sister was worried that I might get infected with hepatitis. How could I burn the letter which still carried my sister's scent? I carefully placed it in my dear diary book. Let it accompany me on my new march.
Not receiving this letter which shouldn't have been late, I lost the three precious days that I could otherwise have spent keeping my ailing sister company. This delayed letter also led me to experience an unusual independent travel at the age of sixteen.

II. Food Is the Paramount Necessity of the People 2

Our final destination was a former Laogai 3 farm located in Wulate Banner. Those prisoners were transferred elsewhere after our arrival. This farm thus became the farm of our Production and Construction Corp to continue agricultural development. From then on, I started my hard life of "face to the yellow earth and back to

2. Food is the paramount necessity of the people: Well-known saying in China throughout the history, the idiom originally came from Sima Qian's Record of History: Biography of Li Sheng and Lu Gu. The idea originated from Guan Zhong (725-645 BC), a philosopher, strategist and politician, who served as chancellor and reformer of the State of Qi during the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history. The idea was further refined by a Confucian scholar Li Yiji (?-203 BC), advisor to Liu Bang, the founder of Western Han Dynasty. The whole sentence should be: The King took his people as the heaven while people took food as their heaven. In other words, rulers should work hard for his people as his primary mission while people work hard for survival and livelihood.

3. Laogai:Laogai is the abbreviation of "laodong gaizao", which means reform through forced labor. It was a criminal justice system involving the use of penal labor and prison farms which were usually located in the remote countryside.

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the sky". Carrying out my tasks in the teeth of wind and rain, I spent the most precious youthful years on this boundless land of yellow earth.
Browsing through the old photo albums, I picked out several small black and white photos taken during the time while I was at the Corp. I was fat like a fully-blown balloon. How would I not be fat? I once ate at one meal six large, steamed buns of corn. When I brag about my appetite during those days, people have a difficult time matching my words with the person in front of themÑa woman of less than one hundred pounds. But I was truly fat at that time. Rather than being fat, it is more accurate to say I was swollen all over, dropsy caused by malnutrition.
Throughout the year, heavy, intense, and hard physical labor exhausted our energy and strength. In return, the compensation we got was steamed bread in a variety of colors as they were made with corn flour, sweet potato flour,

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and other unknown grains. With a shortage of oil, salt and other seasonings, we were served radishes, potatoes and cabbages boiled in water for most of our meals. Our bodies were severely impaired physically and our stomachs became bottomless pits. We always felt hungry no matter how much we ate. In a short while after our meals, our stomachs felt empty again and we waited anxiously for the next meal.
During festivals or special holidays, we had upgraded meals. We were offered white flour dumplings with pork fillings. On these occasions, we were like eating "the last supper". We filled our stomachs to the point of bursting as if we could die with no regret after this fulfilling meal. Hunger is the most horrible monster. Thinking about what it was like to starve back then,

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I cannot help but tremble with fear even today.
One winter, my company built a vegetable cellar with mud bricks to store cabbages, carrots and potatoes for the winter. Because this cellar was considered the treasure for our Company of several hundred people, watch shifts were scheduled day and night. Unexpectedly, Xiao Hu and I were assigned this desirable position of watchers. Our daily routine was nothing more than turning those vegetables on the shelves around to prevent rotting. It was indeed a large cellar, with a walkway in the middle with smaller cellars on both sides. There was a total of a dozen smaller cellars. To prevent theft, we carried our quilts and bedding into the cellar. One smaller cellar became our temporary room. What made this cellar different from others was it had a small window.
In addition to cabbages, potatoes and carrots,

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there were several slabs of frozen pork and lamb in the cellar as well.
One day, one of the starving watchers initiated a wonderful idea. When the whole company went into deep and sound sleep after midnight, we shut the front door of the cellar. We cut a piece of pork and took a cabbage from the shelf. Together with the seasonings and white flour that we got through exchange with the locals using our clothing and other stuff, we began to make the white flour pork dumplings that we dreamed of everyday. With our capable hands, we managed to transform the "spiritual dumplings" in our minds into real and physical dumplings, fat, hot, lovely and delicious. Although it was well after midnight and we were tired after a day's work, the aroma of dumplings drove away our sleepiness. The mouthwatering and soul-stirring dumplings were probably the most memorable in our lives. The fact that we were pilfering "forbidden fruits" gave our night snack

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a rich aftertaste. In order to clean up the mess thoroughly and not to leave any traces, we opened all of the cellar doors after our meal to dismiss the aroma of the dumplings into the morning mist.
For this beautiful night snack, we planned and prepared for the whole day and night. Recalling numerous meals of dumplings throughout my life, this night snack stood out as the most memorable and naturally the most delicious!
As we lived with a shortage of food, we were always in a semi-starving state. After we got off work, we would search every corner where possible edibles could be found. Some male members used daily necessities such as clothing, hats, pants, blankets and washbasins to exchange for food with the locals, at incredibly low prices.

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A set of brand-new jackets and pants or a woolen blanket could be exchanged for a few eggs. The locals were so poverty-stricken that they hardly had anything for exchange. Some men exchanged their washbasins for food. Consequently, they had to use their lunch box as their wash basin. Their lunch boxes served both for food and multiple utility purposes. Hunger reduced them into a state of barbarians. Their female counterparts couldn't be like them as we were born with a strong sense of hygiene.
Summer came. The wide span of ripe and attractive watermelon fields became the target of the male members' greedy eyes. In order to prevent them from stealing melons in groups late at night the vegetable squad assigned two members to the fields as melon watchers.

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Little Shen and I were on the night shift. We came to the fields as soon as darkness fell. The wide fields in summer released all of the scorching heat accumulated during the day and it was cool and comfortable with the evening breeze. Instead of working in the fields under the burning sun during the day, we worked as melon watchers at night resembling taking a stroll in Beijing's parks, cool, relaxed, joyful and carefree like living immortals.
We patrolled the melon fields and did not find anything suspicious. It was getting totally dark. Far away from our camp, we were the only people on this wide and wild span of fields. Little Shen leaned towards me and asked: "Are you scared? I am feeling a little." Facing the pitch-dark surrounding, the feeling of living immortals was long gone. Behind the pitch-dark façade, demons, ghosts and monsters of every description seemed to be hiding and ready to assault us anytime. Although I was

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nervous and frightened with my hair standing, I tried my best to stay calm and console Xiao Shen as hard as I could.
Finally, the day broke and we returned to our dorms. At that time, everybody in our squad had already had their breakfast and were going to work. Upon seeing us, some made fun of us: "Are you scared? I am feeling a little." It turned out that numerous thieves were hiding in the fields under the curtain of the dark sky. When we patrolled the melon fields on field ridges, these thieves were hiding right below our feet. In the dark and quiet night, our conversations could be heard clearly. These thieves brought with them gunny bags and they filled them with melons in haste. All of these were done under our nose! Not only did they steal melons, they also eavesdropped on our conversation as well. As they

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spread the content of our conversation in the company, the image of us being timid and negligent in our duties truly ashamed both of us for days!
An ancient saying goes: "When the granaries are full, they will know propriety and moderation; when their clothing and food is adequate, they will know honor and shame." 4 We couldn't care less but to fill our stomach during the time of acute shortage of material life.

III. We Were Still Young Back Then

The hard life and harsh physical labor did not kill our youthful vitality. Just like a blade of grass, we grew and survived indomitably on that expanse of impoverished yellow soil. We were merely sixteen or seventeen years old.
When we got off work in those days, we were tired as hell. But a little rest

4. When the granaries are full:A famous Chinese saying originated from Guan Zhong (725-645 BC), a philosopher, strategist and politician during China's Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BC), in the chapter entitled "Governing People", authored by Guan Zhong.

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immediately revitalized us. We played around everywhere we could find fun. What were the places for our leisure? There were no playgrounds, ballrooms, theaters, televisions or computers. We did not even have electric light bulbs. Surrounding our campus were expanses of fields. But we always managed to find those places where we could seek our pleasure.
A couple of li from our campus dormitories was a wild untilled land where a thirty-meter-high iron frame tower stood lonely (The tower might have been for future power lines). Several of us came here after work. Somebody proposed to climb up and challenged: "Who dares to climb up?" "I do." I took the challenge with full confidence. Fearing neither heaven nor earth, I have a lot of nerve, and I often mingled with a group of boys competing for this and that.

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In primary school, I climbed up the ten-meter-high diving platform and jumped in the blink of an eye. Others who climbed up the diving platform were so scared that they went down on stairs. From childhood, I always sang a then-popular Albanian revolutionary song: "I am truly bold, and fear nothing on earth because I am a member of Young Pioneers." Encouraged by this song, I in my childhood, hustling and bustling, I did numerous things which even adults would never imagine risking.
I started climbing, ten meters, then twenty meters. I trembled with terror when I looked down. I closed my eyes subconsciously and started to ask myself: shall I give up and go down? I should never draw back as numerous eyes down there were staring at me! I stopped looking down and I pressed on without letup until I got to the tip of the tower.

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There was a small area at the top of the tower where I could take a foothold. Now I could look down. Wow! The houses, the fields and my fellow comrades became so tiny that they seemed to be from Guilliver's Travels. My fellow comrades down there jumped in joy for my "heroic undertaking"! I felt like being a hero looking down from high. The scene, whenever I recall, still makes me excited and gives me thrills. Encouraged by my example, several others followed suit and joined me at the top of the tower. To commemorate our "undertaking", we brought with us small knives on our next trip here. We carved our heroes' names on the top of the tower. Our heroic undertaking alarmed the political instructor of our company. He climbed to the top of the tower himself and recorded all of the heroes' names. At a company assembly, he sharply criticized all of us who risked our own lives showing off "individual heroism".

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The scolding ashamed all the "heroes" and we felt so embarrassed. The company director told us sincerely and earnestly: "If any of you fell down, how would I explain to your parents?" "The mother always worries about her son when he travels." At that time, who among us would be thinking about our loved ones who prayed and wished for our peace, safety and health day and night in distance of thousands of li away. It is only after we became parents ourselves, that we could fully realize all parents under heaven care for their children to an extent that is almost pathetic.
The games that we played at that time were not rich and colorful but were plentiful in variety and diversity!
There was a pond on the side of the road leading to our campus. The pond was used before to farm ducks. In the summer, the pond naturally became our swimming pool. We hardly cared how much ducks' droppings remained in the pond.

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The pond was located next to the main road used by us and the locals as well. Sometimes, the locals passed by the pond and saw us playing in the water in swimming suits exposing our arms and legs. Out of curiosity, they would circle around the pond and watch us as if watching monkeys and bears in the zoo. We became their targets of watching. Probably they had never seen, throughout generations, girls playing in water with their bodies exposed. Being watched didn't bother us and we played on our own. Sometimes we laughed at their naïve expression due to ignorance.
On the side of the pond, a long wooden board was buried. The board extended to the center of the pond very much like a diving board. The water in the pond came up to our chest. On my first time here, I stepped onto the board and warmed myself up by stretching my legs and arms.

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From the board I dived into the water without knowing how deep the pond was. My head touched the muddy bottom of the pond feeling just like doing a forward roll on a soft mat at a physical education class. When I raised my head out of water, my fellow friends on the side burst into laughter. I had dived into the mud which had plastered over my head and face making me look like a mud fish.
I made numerous spectacles of myself in all kinds of games that we played. But sometimes I was bold enough to engage myself helping others.
At that time, our only water source was from a well. We used buckets to get water and they dropped into the well from time to time. Then we had to find a long rope with an iron hook to get the bucket. However, buckets were not always floating on the water. They sometimes sank to the bottom of the well. It was not easy to hook it up when that happened. Once, our dorm's bucket dropped in the well and sank.

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All efforts to hook it up failed. This was the only tool we had to fetch water for our daily drinking and use. Everyone got worried. Standing on the raised platform around the well, I, aroused by my individual heroism, came up with an idea to go down into the well to get the bucket. I could swim as well as dive, therefore, it didn't seem like a big deal. I tied a long rope to my waist for safety considerations. The other end was controlled by my fellow friends at the top of the well. And then, I started sliding down bit by bit along the well wall. It was about five to six meters from the surface of the water to the well platform. I was already short of breath when I touched the water surface. I rested a bit and then dived into the water bursting with energy. Kicking around with my two legs, I dived under water just like I did in the swimming pool. Back in Beijing, I once dived to the bottom of the five-meter-deep swimming pool to fetch a small piece of rock thrown into the water by my friends. However, diving in the well proved to be totally different from the swimming pool!

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The harder I tried to dive down, the more I was pushed up by the gushing well water. That might be the very reason why well water is inexhaustible and always gushes from the underground. I tried all I could to dive down but to no avail. My friends lost their patience and pulled me out of the well with the rope. I laid down on the platform, drenched and bedraggled. Shivering and trembling, I was so exhausted that I could hardly speak a word. My friends carried me back to the dorm room. The action ended with a total failure!

IV. I Have No Menstruation Leave to Speak of

Throughout the year, we were never free from heavy and intense physical labor. Even in winter season when there was hardly anything to do in the fields,

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we were assigned to cut weeds on ice in Wuliangsu Lake.
Day after day; year after year, I was so tired that I seemed to have stopped growing from age sixteen upon my joining the Production and Construction Corp. Seeing my roommates having monthly periods, I had mixed feelings. I felt lucky that I did not have to worry about this troublesome monthly issue. At the same time, I also envied them as they could take a few days off. I had full attendance every month as I missed my period month after month. I went to see the doctor and she told me that I might be late in maturing physically. Another year passed, and I kept my full attendance record. I went to see the doctor again. The doctor said I might be unaccustomed to the climate and environment of the new place. Yes. Un-acclimatization was the very cause. Early in April, we were assigned to transplant rice seedlings in icy-freezing water with bare feet. The ice water, the frozen soil under our feet sent shock waves through our body like needles. Although we wore thick overcoats,

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we couldn't help shivering in the extreme cold. At harvest, the yield of rice couldn't even cover the amount required for seedling. The beautiful dream of "Jiangnan on the Gobi Desert" was but an illusion due to ignorance and failure to follow laws of nature and scientific rules. Our efforts, our sweat and blood were irrevocably wasted. Four years passed by, I was twenty years old. I went to see the doctor again. He said nothing this time and started to inject progesterone. With this, I started to have periods. Each time progesterone was injected, I had periods. Once it stopped, so did my periods. At that time, I was so
naïve that I believed I was luckier than others to be free from this once-a-month "trouble". In addition, I saved the then very precious feminine pads because the supply was carried all the way from Beijing back to Inner Mongolia on our annual homecoming vacations.
However, I am a woman and could never escape the inevitable physical and biological phenomena every woman faces. After I returned to Beijing and

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away from the so-called "un-acclimatization", I started to have my regular monthly period. Every time when it came, I was thrown into extreme abdominal pain with all my internal organs turned upside down. Every time I went through a process of hovering between life and death! In the early days, I celebrated myself for being free from this monthly trouble, now I had to pay it back with doubling pain and trouble. Every month was the same year after year! I ended up with this incurable gynecological disease. Up till this day when I am over forty, it still tortures me every month. I could wish nothing more than menopause to end this lingering pain brought by those days that had tormented me for over two decades. A person's life, with both ends taken away, only has the most precious twenty years in between.

V. Retroactively Admitted As a Member of the Communist Youth League

The years of hard labor transformed us tremendously. Indeed, we are no

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longer what we were several years ago. There was a doggerel then: "Year one city folk, year two a hillbilly, year three a field mouse". This doggerel originated and was adapted from the following saying: "Year one village folk, year two urbanized, year three turning their backs on their own mom and dad." We transformed from city folks to country bumpkins, and vice versa. Would this transformation reduce urban-rural disparities? Back then, we never quite understood why we had to become field mice. Here, I am using this saying to poke fun at myself.
I had been living and working in the Production and Construction Corps for five years between 1969 and 1974. Because my dad committed suicide to escape persecution during the Cultural Revolution, I was thus labeled as "children who could be educated and transformed". Ever since the first day of my father's death, I carried a heavy cross on my back. No matter when and where I was,

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I could not afford to neglect or fall behind others even by a tiny bit. My assumption was I would never be transformed into a normal person without making such efforts. At work, I gave my utmost effort and never goofed off. I always had full attendance throughout the years since I didn't qualify for any menstruation leave. I was always ready to help even risking my life, such as jumping into the well to retrieve a bucket. After getting off work, I frequently lit a small oil lamp made from an ink bottle and studied Chairman Mao's works. While some of us asked parents for snacks and food, I saved up my monthly allowances of a meager five to six yuan and sent it home. I remembered what our political director once said: "Some people complain about our life with its shortage of nutrients such as vitamins. I think what they are in shortage of is the proletariat spirit of hard work and plain living." I always equated proletariat revolution to asceticism.

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As a result of my good behavior, I was awarded consecutive years as a "Five Good Soldier", an exception for so-called "educatable and transformable children". Those small award certificates were the embodiments of my previous youth!
At the beginning of 1974, which was the fifth year here at the Corps, my mother initiated the procedures for me "to return due to difficult circumstances". When I was to leave the corps and return to Beijing, the Corps' Communist Youth League brought up the issue of my joining the organization. In terms of my behavior and work, I was outstanding and flawless to be measured by the standards of a member of the league. However, there had not been any official conclusion on my father's death, neither could my family's status be defined. This issue made things difficult for the Youth League at the Corps, as political screening of the family status on admitting membership to the league was very strict at the time. It might be exaggerating to say that the screening would trace over three generations,

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but father's status was a must, to say the least. Considering my excellent record of accomplishments for the last five years, the Corps Youth League, out of compassion, finally decided to break the rule to execute the complicated procedures and submit their approval to the upper branch.
After I returned to Beijing, I was officially recognized and admitted as a full and glorious member of the Chinese Communist Youth League. The notification was mailed to me in Beijing. Consequently, I was unable to attend even a single meeting of the league while I was at the corps.
Just like every other youth, I was eager to become a member of the Communist Youth League. I paid the price of my youth, sweat and blood, for this goal of life. But I was denied access to its door for a long time. When this honorable title was finally granted, I was already twenty-two years old. As a matter of fact, I was near the age when members are to retire from the league. This belated honorable title could not serve as proof of my own worth. To me, it felt like

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a meaningless crown bestowed to a beggar. I had completely lost my passion and enthusiasm by the time it came to me. The honor carried no weight.
Five years the most precious, youthful years of my life. Five years Ð the most painful but also the most joyful time of my life journey. No language can describe and state its impact on my whole life.
Home"Life starts at Sixteen" memoir, 1994 : "生活从十六岁开始"
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