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Shaky Loyalty

I picked up this story from an Audible course, “The Fall and Rise of China.”

In the 60s, somewhere in a remote Chinese village, there was a young man who came from a middle-class family. His “origin” was thus not a good one (“good” meant coming from a poor peasant family), therefore he had little chances for education and advancement and career in life. He had an idea how to overcome his bleak perspectives.

At that time, competitions were organized all over China, in which young people competed in learning by heart large passages from Mao’s Red Book. He was smart and capable, thus he won the competition in his village. He amazed everybody with his long quotes from Mao’s book, perfectly memorized. He was then sent to the district competition where he won again. As a result, the officials gave him money and sent him to the province capital, for the next level of the competition.

Instead of buying a ticket to the capital of the province, he bough a ticket to the vicinity of Hong Kong, which was at that time a British colony. He used his remaining funds to bribe a border guard and was able to pass into the Hong Kong to freedom.

***

I know a similar story from a friend of mine, I will call him Stephan (not his real name). The story told here happened sometimes in the 70s.

Stephan was a socially gifted young man. In high school and in college, he was the organizer of all group activities. He rented space for dance halls, bought cinema tickets and organized trips and parties. His talent was noticed by a Party secretary, who told Stephan that, talented as he was, he must join the Communist Party. His talent would be highly regarded.

“Not yet,” said Stephan, “let me first finish college, then I will join the Party.”

The Party secretary waited, and when Stephan graduated, he talked with him again.

“No more excuses, not you have to join the Party.”

“Sure,” answered Stephan, “I will be glad to do it. However, I would like to ask you a favor. To celebrate the graduation, and after all the hard work in school, I would like to take a trip to Yugoslavia. I cannot get a passport and approval for the trip without a Party secretary recommendation. Can you give me such a recommendation? I will fill all the forms for becoming a Communist Party member and join as soon as I come back.”

Approvals for trips to Yugoslavia were very hard to get, but Stephan got the recommendation and joined a group of Romanian tourists which went to Belgrade, closely watched by secret Security agents. After a day or two in Belgrade, one late evening he stepped out of the hotel, escaping the close supervision. He took a bus and went to a city close to the Italian border. He was able to illegally cross the border into Italy, and later came to the United States, where I met him.

***

A final note: From what I read, the Romanian Communist Party had about four million members in November 1989. In January 1990, after the fall of the Communist regime, it had perhaps less than 100.

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