Copyright 2010 and on, L. Dean Webb and Zzzptm.com, all rights reserved.
Mao Zedong Experiences a Setback
Mao regained consciousness, as if waking up from a dream. He looked around the empty room, recognizing the medical equipment, although it appeared to him at unfamiliar angles. The clock on the wall showed the time, about 20 after 1.
Mao noticed the room had no odor whatsoever. Although he immediately suspected treachery, he did so in a calm, flat manner, without any adrenaline or increased pulse rate. The concept of treachery remained academic, almost a curiosity. The minute hand moved forward with a bureaucratic click and the sound echoed through Mao’s consciousness. Effects of the painkillers?
“Mao Zedong? Can you hear me?”
Mao wanted to turn immediately to confront the voice, but could only rotate with agonizing motion. The minute hand chunked forward as Mao finally saw the speaker.
The speaker was hard to see, almost. As Mao focused on the speaker, the room around him became blurred. He regarded the speaker with contempt. He was some peasant, in a simple tunic. He didn’t look Chinese at all, even though his accent was impeccable, reminiscent of Hunan Province, absent the purring drawl of Beijing. A second person stood next to the speaker, dressed in what seemed to be an old style of Western suit.
The tunic-wearer spoke. “You will be with us for a while. We are here to help you.”
Help? But where’s Li? Where’s Hua?
The suited person spoke. “You have undergone a great change. We are here to help you.”
How is it he also speaks like he grew up in Hunan? Mao heard faint shouts in the outer hall, probably from men arguing as they walked past. He couldn’t make out what they said.
The man in the tunic said, “My name is Atl.”
The man in the suit said, “And my name is Hezekiah King.”
Mao stared at them both. Who are these nobodies, these nothings? How did they get in here? I… I need a cigarette. Mao’s paranoia made way for his deep-seated craving. “Both of you. Leave me.”
Atl said, “We won’t. We need to stay with you.”
The minute hand made another officious lurch.
Runners’ footfalls echoed in the hall. Shouts. Orders. Panic.
I need to see what’s going on. Mao turned toward the door and that was as far as he got. He could not move. He looked down to see if he was restrained. He saw himself in his Sun Zhongshan suit but no restraints, not even an IV tube. So why can’t I move?
Mao turned back to face the two improbable visitors. His nicotine cravings were now unbearable. He remembered his heart attack. That was on 2 September. “What day is today?”
Hezekiah said, “It’s the early morning of the 9th of September, almost 27 full years after you declared the East is Red.”
“I’m dead, aren’t I?”
Hezekiah and Atl nodded and said, “Yes.”
Orderlies entered the room to take down the medical apparatus. They said very little to each other and nothing at all to Chairman Mao.
Mao watched them clean the room. He said, “Leave the door open when you leave,” but they closed it behind them. They cannot hear me. I am dead.
Atl said, “There are two that wish to speak to you now. They will arrive soon.”
Mao raised his eyebrows. “Oh? They will just walk in here and speak to me? What if I don’t wish to grant them an audience? Who are these people?”
The two people appeared. Both were Chinese, dressed in simple attire. They looked at Mao, dead on, and the contempt on their faces was clear to see. The one on the right spoke, with a distinct Manchurian accent. “We died in the Siege of Changchun. Your armies starved us to death. We have forgiven you, but we bear this witness against you so you will know what you have done.”
Mao responded, “The Kuomintang killed you by not surrendering. It was my duty and my destiny to unify China. Blame them.”
The one on the left said, “Your soldiers turned us back when we tried to leave. You wanted the Kuomintang food supplies to deplete faster. You turned our hunger into a weapon against them.”
Mao said, “It was a strategy, nothing more.”
The one on the right said, “You forgot to care for the poor, nothing less.”
Mao felt a deep, piercing, depressing heat wrack his mind. He knew at that moment that he shared in the guilt for their deaths.
The two victims of Changchun faded from Mao’s view. Atl and Hezekiah remained. Hezekiah said, “You cannot refuse an audience. Those who will see you, will see you. They will speak to you. They will talk about what you did in your life.”
Mao thought a moment. “Well, I’ve got some things I’d like to say to some people, starting with Liu Shaoqi.”
Hezekiah said, “That’s not possible. You aren’t able to leave here.”
“What’s keeping me here, then?” The pain of depression increased with each lurch of the minute hand.
“You are keeping yourself here. What you did keeps you here.”
“I did what any ruler must do to bring about order and stability. How can reunifying China be a crime? How can protecting the Revolution be a crime?”
Two more Chinese peasants appeared. The one on the right said, “We starved to death in the Great Leap Forward.”
Mao’s pain burned hotter.
The one on the left said, “Your policies were ruinous. You only knew a lack of meat when we had long known a complete absence of food. You were a fool and your folly murdered us. We have forgiven you, but we testify so you will know.”
Mao knew. Anxiety deepened as his spirit plunged deeper into pain. “Lies!” was all he could muster.
The one on the right said, “Truth.” Then the pair faded from Mao’s sight.
A janitor entered the room to sweep and mop.
Atl said, “You probably feel pain now. You probably also crave tobacco.”
“This is natural. We are here to help you.”
“Will you give me morphine? Or at least a cigarette?”
“No. You need to know that what you experience now is not the same as what you experienced when you were alive. You no longer have a physical body. But we are here to testify that your pain and cravings can come to an end.”
“When you choose for it to end.”
Mao regarded Atl with astonishment. “Well then, I choose it to end now.”
Two new people appeared. Mao recognized them as members of the Communist Party of China from Jiangxi, from 1931 or 1932. The one on the right spoke. “We have both forgiven you, but we are here to testify about what you did.”
The one on the left said, “You know what you did.”
Mao’s pain trebled, consuming him in its fury. He remembered the order for the purge of the Jiangxi CPC. These two officials died from torture. Mao remembered the day he gave the order for their death. He knew it clearly, in sharp and vivid view. The memory had long faded in his physical mind but now it leaped into his view, commanding all his attention, full of complete and perfect detail.
Full of complete and painful detail. Mao watched himself sign the order and speak the words that sealed the fate of the pair in front of him. Every stroke, every syllable added fuel to the fires of anguish and depression.
The pair faded as the minute hand proceeded relentlessly.
Mao screamed. “I thought you said I could end the pain! It’s worse!”
Hezekiah said, “The end is not instant. Wanting it to end will intensify the pain, but your endurance can be rewarded. Do you still want the pain to end?”
“Yes, but not like that!”
“There is no other way. I apologize, but there is no other way.”
Mao screamed as another pair of witnesses materialized just as the chunk of the clock punctuated another minute. After they delivered their statement and the pain mounted and the clock ticked again, Mao turned to Atl and Hezekiah. “How many of these will I see?”
Atl stated, “The murder victims are first. There are 76,451,479 of them.”
Mao’s horror grew to match his pain. “76 million? Truly?”
Atl nodded. “2,322,856 civilians killed by your faction in the Chinese Civil War, 5,997,321 killed in purges you ordered from your early days in the CPC up to about 1957, 42,037,110 killed as a result of the Great Leap Forward, 6,503,549 killed in the Cultural Revolution, 18,431,004 killed in your Laogai labor camps, 1,159,639 civilians killed by your suppression of Tibet. 76,451,479 murder victims, total. Then others you have wronged will testify. Murder victims have priority.”
The number 76,451,479 swelled huge in Mao’s mind, towering over his soul that writhed in the burning pits of depression. “I’ve only seen eight of them.”
Hezekiah nodded. “There are 76,451,471 that await to speak to you. Then, as Atl said, the others will see you.”
“How is it you’re here to help me?”
“We explain things to you and we will not leave your side. We have followed you since you were born and we hope you might choose something better. We are faithful to you, Mao.”
“It is our purpose here. Here is another visit.”
Tick. Tibetans, this time, with a translator. The translator also bore witness, as he had been killed in the Cultural Revolution. Mao wanted to not see the screams of the Tibetans as they fell under bullets. Mao wanted to shut his eyes to the sight of the guards strangling the translator in prison after beating him with pipes. His eyes forced him to see with the white-hot intensity of truth. The pain of the truth found the impurities in his soul, one at a time, one with every tick of the infernal clock.
The janitor finished cleaning and shut the door behind him as he left.
Another pair came to see Mao. Mao recognized them as victims of another purge he’d ordered. He spoke before they did. “Please! I am wretched! You don’t know the pain I feel! I’m burning up with guilt! Leave me alone or speak only of the good times we shared! Show me a mercy!”
The two witnesses stared firmly at Mao. “Mao, we have forgiven you and-”
“Yes, yes! And you bring this to me so I know! I know! I know!”
“We bring this witness to you so you know.”
The monotony of the depression and the pain did not lessen their deep emptiness and heat. “I only had you killed because I knew you were with Liu Shaoqi! You had betrayed me and I had to keep my power! You would have done the same thing if you were in my place!”
The one on the left said, “You murdered us. Nothing truly compelled you to kill. You could have stopped.”
“And let China collapse?”
Atl held up a hand and spoke to Mao. “They’re not accusing you of something you did not do. They are trying to help you understand what you did.”
“And I’m trying to help them understand why I had to do what I did!”
“They already understand. That is why they have forgiven you. They are not here to argue. They are only here to help you.”
“This pain is help? You’re insane!”
Atl shook his head. “You will see your reality eventually.”
And as Mao started to insist that he already knew reality, reality ripped his mind apart as he saw his victims prostrate on the ground, kicked repeatedly by a student mob until they died. The students chanted slogans Mao had written and their hate resonated within Mao. He saw what he had unleashed and that no, it had no justification.
The pain deepened, the depression worsened, the echo of the minute hand rang louder, and the heat of the truth burned through another flaw.
The victims faded out of sight. Mao cried out, “Why me? I did not know it was so wrong!”
Hezekiah said, “You did know. You knew the truth and that it was wrong to murder to get gain. You may not have known all the things you should not have done, but you did know that.”
Hezekiah’s words crushed Mao’s rebellion. Yes, I did know.
Another tick, another pair of victims, party functionaries that fell from grace and into the Laogai prison archipelago. They had forgiven Mao, and the forgiveness made Mao feel every flea bite they suffered more vividly, more real than the life he lived just minutes ago. They both had died from scurvy and Mao watched on, each moment of their suffering compressed into an instant of pure realization.
They left and the room began to fade. Atl and Hezekiah remained.
Atl said, “This will pass. This has an end. Even one with your weight of crimes has an end to the testimonies. Whether the end will lead to something better is your choice. Your choice is not what you make at this moment, but is a sum of your interpretation of all the testimonial experiences you will see.”
Mao thought a moment. “Tell me, Atl, what did Qin Shi Huang choose when he saw what he had done?”
“I cannot tell you that. You are responsible for your own decision, based on your own experience.”
“I never valued life as I lived. I once said half of China would have to die to modernize. I once bragged of killing one hundred scholars for every one Qin Shi Huang had buried alive. I feel the pain of my crimes now. I feel it.”
Atl nodded. “You will continue to feel it. You will decide if the fire punishes or purifies.”
Mao asked, “What does it take to purify my soul? Isn’t that how to make the pain end?”
“That is the end to your pain. Purification requires more than witnessing your crimes. It also requires that you abandon your pride. You were no greater a man than I, Mao Zedong.”
In spite of his pains and agonies and screaming desires for a smoke, Mao stiffened at the thought he was not a great man. “You don’t understand me at all, do you?”
Atl only stared at Mao.
Another pair of victims began to materialize.
Although the room had now faded completely, the imperious minute hand’s tick sounded with each passing of a dominant minute.
“We forgive you, but…”