By Hao Ran
translated by Wong Kam-ming
Zao-hua lived in the Baicao Mountain Range for two days and learned a lot of skills from the model workpoint recorder Gao Xiu-zhi. Her little brains, like well-oiled cogwheels, were filled with drive and enthusiasm.
Happily she set out for home, sorry only that she couldn't fit herself with a pair of wings, to fly back to Guozi Valley. She wanted to work in the same way as Xiu-zhi; she wanted to be a Gao Xiu-zhi-style workpoint recorder. She felt that all she had to do was to make up her mind to take the same road as Gao Xiu-zhi and to work hard, and she would definitely be able to catch up with Gao Xiu-zhi.
It was late autumn. Most of the crops on the land had been completely harvested. Only a few commune members were digging white yams on the terrace fields. Suddenly, someone called out in front: "Hey there! Is that Zao-hua?"
Zao-hua raised her head to take a look. An old man was standing on the road. He was short and had a small, narrow face. Squinting his eyes, he was smiling out of the corner of his mouth.
This man's name was Liu Lao-zheng ["lao" = old, "zheng" = upright). It was quite a nice-sounding name. At fifty-five he was "lao" all right. But there was something not quite "zheng" about the way he did things. In Guozi Valley, whoever mentioned this old middle peasant would get something of a headache. This was because he was always up to his tricks. He was very close to the former workpoint recorder, always trying to curry favor with him and "to lure him into a trap." It was his doing that the workpoint recorder had gone astray and was in the end dismissed from his job. Everyone knew how that whole affair had come about.
Zao-hua took a look at him and, quickly sizing up the situation in her mind, responded: "Uncle Liu, been visiting your relatives?"
Liu Lao-zheng sidled right up to Zao-hua and said: "That's right. I went to Beijing [Peking] to visit with my daughter. Zao-hua, I hear that you have become the workpoint recorder."
"Good! Uncle supports you. To be a workpoint recorder you have to learn to use the abacus. You haven't got an abacus, have you?"
Liu Lao-zheng pulled out an abacus from a sack he was carrying over his shoulder. "Huala, huala," he shook it several times and said: "I bought one in Beijing. I'll lend it to you to use."
Zao-hua glanced at that glossy new abacus and shook her head. "That's not necessary. When it is time to go to the market, I will ask my dad to get me one."
Liu Lao-zheng did not press her, put the abacus back in the sack and said: "Anytime you want to use it, just come to my place and take it. Whether it is yours or mine, it is the same thing. Don't stand on ceremony. It's just that I'm fond of you. You can tell what a child will be at three years of age. When you were still in your mother's arms, I already told her: 'In the future, little Zao-hua will certainly be somebody.'"
Listening to these words, Zao-hua found them quite pleasing to the ear. She raised her head, and saw quite a few commune members on the terrace fields stop what they were doing. Pair after pair of eyes was fixed on them.
Liu Lao-zheng went on: "To be a workpoint recorder, it matters little whether or not you are educated, resourceful or experienced. The most fundamental requirement is to unite with the masses. Zao-hua, you must think of ways of uniting with the masses. You mustn't offend anybody. Once you offend anybody, it will make your job difficult. Then even if you want to stay on your job, you won't be able to do it for too long. Quitting halfway, what a loss of face!"
Listening to these words, Zao-hua found them quite reasonable. She again raised her head and looked. People on the terrace fields were whispering to one another. Some were beckoning to her.
Liu Lao-zheng wanted to say something else. But Zao-hua was already climbing towards the terrace fields.
The commune members formed a circle around Zao-hua, speaking all at once, to "disinfect" her.
"Zao-hua, don't listen to what Liu Lao-zheng says. There is poison in his honeyed words. If you listen to them you will get into trouble."
"All he thinks about is money, never socialism. All he does is take advantage of the collective."
"You come from a family of poor and lower-middle peasants. You must do things in line with our thoughts and feelings."
Zao-hua listened and listened. Her head, grown warm with Liu Lao-zheng's honeyed words, slowly cooled off, as if a spring breeze had blown through it. She said: "Please don't