Geography Reference
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prisoner detail began unloading the cargo: dark brown sheets of
an unknown material, rigid and light, each one measuring about three
by five feet. No one had any idea of what they were. Two weeks later
we were called into the auditorium to hear the answer. The stuff was
paper pulp, and we were going to eat it. Food Substitute, the prison
officials called it—dai shipin. I'll never forget the words. Since
there wasn't enough food to go around in China, the search was on for
something to replace it and we prisoners had the honor of being the
guinea pigs for the various ersatzes the scientific community came up
with. (Bao 1973, 216-19)
Harry Wu (Wu Hongda) describes his own ordeal by hunger in a
brainwashing camp during this time:
Day by day, our hunger became more intense. Without food, the body
uses calories stored in muscle tissues and even in bones to provide
energy and sustain life. I began to understand the process of starvation.
When death strikes in the camps, malnutrition is rarely the direct cause.
The heart does not stop beating from lack of nourishment. Depending
on your overall health, you can survive for a week, even two, with no
food or water at all. In such a depleted state, it is other things that kill
Sometimes you catch cold, your lungs fill with fluid, and finally you
stop breathing. Sometimes bacteria in the food cause continuous diar-
rhea that leads to death. Sometimes infection from a wound becomes
fatal. The cause of death is always noted in your file as pleurisy or food
poisoning or injury, never as starvation. (Wu 1994, 95-96)
Wu Ningkun, another intellectual who spoke his mind during the
feigned openness of Mao's Hundred Flowers campaign, wound up
in a brainwashing camp in 1960. He was fortunate enough to have
family members who could bring him some food during the worst
months of the famine, but other inmates were not as lucky.
One of the have-nots was a young scholar of classical Chinese who slept
on my right on the kang [bed]. One day he handed me a note written in
his elegant calligraphy in the style of the great classical calligrapher Liu
Gongquan. “I beg you to lend one of your pancakes, professor. I sol-
comes from Hunan province to bring me food from home.” I hesitated,
because I felt I had no right to be generous with the food, which repre-
sented the sacrifices of my relatives were making to save my life.
A second note contained the same message with a proverb added: “He
who saves a man's life does a deed greater than building the Buddha a
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