by Tom Casey on May 23, 2013

Tom Casey

Po Chin lived for twenty years on the edge of a rainforest in a village one hundred miles north of the city of Makassar. His grandfather was an intimate of Sun Yat-sen, and had amassed a fortune in the early part of the century. His father, a Christian, had an austere temperament and stood fast against expropriation of family holdings during the thirties and forties. Then Po Chin assumed the mantel. When the Kuomintang government was turned out in l949, and Mao Zedong launched the Three and Five Antis Movement against industrialists, Po Chin was forced to leave Shanghai or face incarceration.
As a young man Po Chin tended toward extravagance and he was prone to indulgent western notions. He was not without the intelligence, guile, and industry of his forebears, it was only that he put these gifts to unexalted ends. In a word, he was a sensualist. Educated in England, he migrated to Hong Kong and thrived as a trader until he fled the city under duress. An enraged parent had given testimony to the Prefect of Police that his underage daughter had been seduced by Po Chin. These facts of his life were generally known to the villagers.
Even into old age Po Chin had a taste for very young women. The life he led within the walls of his home was a source of mystery and speculation. Always there were many women. Legend allows that they were well cared for while they remained in his compound, and he sent them away to privileged schools in Europe when they were of an age for secondary education or the university. He was an educated man, and believed in education, and any kindness was within his means. Altogether he had established, in exile, paradise of a sort.
But what were his thoughts when, one evening, kidnappers appeared from out of the darkness. A private man of independent spirit, surely he was shocked by the rabble at his door, some forty strong, insolently chanting and reviling his name. Who were they? What did they want? At first he felt no fear. Perhaps the onset of fear came when it dawned on him, as they mounted his steps, that the age of the oldest attacker could be reckoned at not over twelve. Yes, it must have been then. But by that time he was engulfed, dragged down from the portico, his world a crashing confusion of legs and fists and blows as they pulled him along the macadam drive, and then over rocks and sticks, and through the mud, to a place where they beat him fiercely. He struggled fanatically, screaming obscenities in Chinese; but his screaming and struggling only excited a brute response from his captors, who hovered and huddled over him in the darkness, their voices harsh and strident as they vied for a turn to strike at him. Soon he was limp from the beating they gave him, and a chorus of hoorays! erupted, and after a short discussion among the leaders, he was carried quietly away. The eternal moon shone through the trees.
He fell asleep in the peaceful embrace of a woman, darkness enfolding, and a dream at first sublime inverted suddenly; Po Chin awakened slowly from sunny landscapes of his childhood in Shanghai to sensations of pain, to consciousness once again, to awareness of outrage and terror. His eyes opened to inimical eyes in darkness, and shouts of wild hatred. His arms were spread and he was aware of being restrained. The gravity of his situation dawned in panic. He was being held in a lumber shed, and…they had nailed him to the wall.
A young boy slapped his face. A cheer resounded. Made bold, others had their turn. A young girl of eleven or twelve spit at him like a cat; another kicked him in the shin; yet another punched him hard in his genitals. These events were unfolding too rapidly to have credibility. Only an hour before he was resting in his library, a night like others, with less excitement than most.
Torches had been planted, and the pungent odor of oil and creosote seemed to sweat out of the malignant spirit in the room—jagged bouncing shadows mocked him.
“Why are you doing this to me?”
Those were his last incredulous words, whimpered, according to rumors. An autopsy reported that death came from a knife wound in the heart, but he suffered a thousand cuts before his last breath. His body was reported still unpried when they found him, and various epithets–seducer, devil, running dog demon–were written on the floor, a crude calligraphy in blood.
“May his soul never rest in peace,” said a young woman, Mei Ling, to her friend Ping Si. Their children played nearby under a leafy tree. Antic laughter filled the air in contrast to the swift grim movements of authorities beyond the cordon.
Occasionally, the leader of the removal squad turned and met their eyes, but he remained of a somber aspect. Mei Ling and Ping Si watched from curiosity, and from an unspoken desire to bear witness. At last, the body was carried out. Four uniformed officials labored down a short flight of wooden stairs. They stepped gingerly, muttering and cautious. The corpse was prone on a stretcher, covered. The door to the ambulance slammed shut. It drove away without urgency or clamor. Then the shed was sealed and a notice of no entry affixed to the door. The leader made a final inspection of the shed, and, satisfied that it was secure, turned to Mei Ling and Ping Si. By way of acknowledging their vigil, his glance moved to their children, and then back to the two mothers once again.
“He was a blight,” said Mei Ling with a bitterness that Ping Si did not share.
“Mamma, I want to go home,” said Ping Si’s daughter, sensing that her mother could be drawn away.
“We will go home,” she said. “Come.”
The two mothers gathered their children and walked along a wide path toward the village. Their village was a Chinese enclave on the island of Celebes. The Great Leap Forward Campaign had resulted in catastrophic economic collapse, and many families fled Shanghai at that time to avoid starvation.
“Many changes are happening at home,” said Mei Ling, “There is news of a Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Their will be no wealthy class.”
Ping Si was silent. She, too, had heard news from China.
For Ping Si there was nothing intrinsically good or bad, virtuous or ignoble, nourishing to the spirit or contemptible about wealth; hadn’t he always said it was only one means of class distinction, and surely the among the crudest? Yet, where poverty exists, she had seen that wealth imparts an imperishable mystique onto those few who are believed to have riches. And she saw that propaganda sought to ignite class hatreds, not for virtue’s sake, but for political expediency, just as he’d said.
“But why applaud or dishonor according to who is thought to have wealth?” said Ping Si. “I find that degrading.”
“Is it not degrading to be victimized by the wealthy class?” said Mei Ling with surprising vituperation. Her son ran ahead with Ping Si’s daughter and she called after him to remain within sight. Then, alluding to the events they had just witnessed, Mei Ling said, “Did not Po Chin die justly?”
Later, it was alleged that for years the police had been in his employ, and that they turned their head at his convenience. That may be true. And he was an unabashed capitalist, conspicuously successful in a village of red refugees. He had stopped paying attention to politics. It may be true—there was some speculation—that his murder was instigated by some of the parents of his courtesans, for they were always very young, and he was very old. Perhaps a bargain they struck too readily haunted their pride with remorse, and they came to blame him for corrupting them also. It would be hard to say. In any case, not a single participant in the episode was prosecuted. Indeed, the investigation was swift and inconclusive, the case rapidly closed, and the properties of Po Chin remaindered to the state.
Ping Si sat on the porch of her small bamboo home and watched her daughter play in the yard. The most curious aspect to Po Chin’s horrible manner of death was not only that he was murdered by children, but that, if whispers can be taken for truth, many of the children were his own.

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