The True Story of Yu Fen (excerpt)
For this month’s UNSEASONAL, I bring you an excerpt from my novella “The True Story of Yu Fen.” Briefly, it’s about a girl involved with the Falun Gong religious movement and her “true story.” The following bit covers journalist Zhang Jié as he visits a provincial town to investigate a murder related to the group.
My second series of travels in service of The People’s Voice brought me to Anhui Province, where I saw firsthand the devastation caused by Mr. Li Hongzhi’s perverse brand of mischief. I had been notified by my supervisors of a particularly vicious crime committed in the name of Falun Gong and was quickly dispatched to edify the gruesome quality of the affair.
Upon arriving in Bengbu City, I was to meet the local police constable, Chief Liu Yunlin, at the home of Jiang Wenli, a 56-year-old practitioner of Falun Gong. She lived with her husband, a fisherman, in a large, sturdily-constructed flat building in the neighborhood known as Little Bengbu, on the north bank of the Huai River. I had never traveled to Bengbu previous to this excursion and the view from my taxicab was delightful. I gazed out the window contentedly, momentarily forgetting my cruel destination, as I watched the river churn along in a most uniform fashion yet dotted with the frenzy of boating citizens diligently working for the benefit of all (the region is known for its great abundance of river clams, supplying many neighboring cities with the tasty catch). I marveled at this wonder of Chinese industry for many moments before I was disturbed from my thoughts by the taxi driver’s interjection that we had arrived. I paid the fare and stepped from the car, once again conscious of the sordid sights likely before me in that morning’s activity. I girded myself with the knowledge that regardless of what lay ahead, it was my duty to report the truth of the affair, as distasteful as it may be. I swallowed my anxiety like a baby chick eager for sustenance and stood at attention on the corner, waiting for the Chief.
Apparently, I had grown dazed yet again, as I was alarmed by the firm slap to my back that announced the constable’s arrival.
“Zhang Jié, huh?” he yelled out, clucking at my surprise. “You Beijing guys, all the same, always sleeping on the job. It’s a wonder anything gets done in that city at all!”
Though dismayed by his lack of respect for the fine working people of Beijing, I held my retort in the interest of diplomacy and simply responded, “Why, yes, my name is Zhang Jié. I have been dispatched by The People’s Voice to report—”
“I know why you’re here, pal,” he said, interrupting my carefully chosen introduction. “Your boss called yesterday, said you wanted to see the stiffs. Bit of a stiff yourself, no? Ha ha! Only joking. Come along Brother Zhang, we might as well get this over with.” He nudged me uncomfortably in the ribs with his elbow to punctuate his statement, then gestured for me to follow as he entered the exterior courtyard and walked up to the building’s entrance.
Entering the dark hallway behind him I tensed; even filled with the lively muffled chatter of residents behind closed doors, I could sense, and perhaps even smell, the death that lay soon before me. My steps grew short and my head muddled with conflicting sensations. When I reached the door to the flat, the Chief ahead, he turned to me seeming to sense my unease. “Ain’t seen something like this before, huh?” he said with a compassion previously absent in his jocular attitude. “Aw, you’ll be alright. Here, cover your nose with this. Those two will be pretty rank by now.” He handed me his handkerchief, clearly a longtime companion, which I took gingerly in my fingers. Cutting the ribbon announcing a police operation in progress, he opened the door.
Despite my precautions, I was not prepared for the sour smell that entered my nose upon stepping into the flat. Up to that point in my life, I had seen many dead animals upon my walks through the great city, but the close quarters and my apprehension must have served to amplify the sensations at work within the room. I brought Chief Yunlin’s dirty handkerchief to my face and breathed in deeply, working with all my might to restrain my desire to flee from the dark quarters.
“Woohoo! I told you it’d be as stinky as pack of copulating squids in here, Brother Zhang. We’ll have to get this mess cleaned up as soon as you’re done. Well, alright then, go ahead and look around!” The Chief prodded me forward on unsteady feet as my eyes adjusted to the dim light and the incessant droning of buzzing flies. Looking around, it appeared to me that the interior of the flat had been decorated for some holiday festivity, with odd streamers attached to the walls and thrown over the ceiling fan. I reflected in my mind as to what the occasion may be, but no nearby feasts or Party holidays came immediately to my mind. I then noticed that the furniture was overturned and the table had not been cleared from the last meal. Curious, indeed. When my eyes lit upon the blood-stained sheet covering the two prone forms in the corner of the room, my knees once again buckled.
“Are those the two unfortunate victims of Mr. Li Hongzhi’s notorious propaganda attack?” I somehow managed to stutter.
“I don’t know what the hell you are talking about, but yeah, like I said earlier, those are the stiffs, wanna see ‘em or not?” the Chief replied, striding over to the victims as if nothing were amiss, casually brushing away an insect that momentarily landed on his yellowed collar. Before I could answer, or even prepare my eyes for the sight of the vanquished couple, he bent down and quickly pulled away the sheet, zipping it through the air with the flourish of the Spanish toreadors I had seen on television. Without the thin cotton filter, I looked at the dead bodies lying there in a pool of blood and filth and my mind made a gruesome connection of which I could barely fathom. Those streamers upon the wall were not streamers at all. In fact, they were strips of the dead man’s skin. This wife, so insane with Mr. Li Hongzhi’s words, had excoriated her husband with a pair of sewing scissors before plunging them into her own heart. This was the devastation wrought upon China by the Falun Gong cult. I must say I do not remember what followed immediately thereafter.
When I came to my senses, we were both back in the open air of the courtyard, Chief Yunlin standing over me with a sly grin on his face. “Guess I shoulda warned you, huh pal. Hey, sorry about that. You’ll be better prepared next time.”
I nodded and gestured for a glass of water.
“This ain’t the Shanghai Marriott,” the Chief grunted, hitching up his pants. “There’s a garden hose over there, be my guest. And when you’re done with that, what say you and me grab some lunch, your treat. I’m starving!”
I drank heartily from the hose and then staggered out after Chief Yunlin. Over lunch, he filled me in on the details of the crimes between bites of his Fuliji chicken, an aromatic specialty of the region. I contented myself with tea and biscuits.
“So we get a call from the neighbors, right pal? Apparently these two, the stiffs I mean, are yelling and screaming like a couple of mating hens, and auntie next door can’t hear the daily broadcast, no matter what the volume.” As I watched the spittled chicken dissolving between the Chief’s capped molars, I was forced to bring my napkin to my mouth. “Well, we get there, me and my deputy—Wu’s his name if ya care—kind of a dickhead Wu is—expecting just more of the old marital discord, but it’s dead silent. I’m about to go give that old witch next door a piece of my mind when we hear a scream like bloody murder from inside the room. Then Wu, that industrious bugger’s after my job I reckon, bursts in like some kind of Hong Kong Action Star and here’s this nut perched over her old man with a pair of scissors like she’s some kind of crazy seamstress. She catches a glimpse of us bursting in and she just lights up like a horny yak—I mean, you ever see a yak in the wild, it’s pretty scary, you know. Her eyes were black and glassy just like that. And get this, before sticking the scissors in her own heart, this crazy broad screams, ‘Beloved Master Li, come quickly to save me!’ Just another day in Bengbu, ha!”
I nodded gravely at Chief Yunlin’s words as he buried himself once more in his chicken. This was the reason I had traveled from Beijing and been forced to witness the terrors I had seen that morning. These people had been duped by the man I was coming to consider the gravest enemy China had ever faced. This was no arrogant Japanese or boorish American, he was one of our own, and had betrayed us all. I was disgusted and saddened both. “Mr. Li Hongzhi did not come,” I managed to mutter through my sorrow. “He was too busy counting his ill-gotten riches.” The Chief hardily nodded in affirmation.
Having finished my tea, I stood to leave. It was urgent I make my report on this horrible tragedy as soon as possible. The readers of The People’s Voice would stand for no delay. I shared my sincere gratitude with Chief Yunlin, and he, momentarily setting aside his chicken bone, grabbed my hand in his own. “No problem pal, thanks for lunch. But hey, how ‘bout that hanky?”
I pulled the Chief’s handkerchief from my pocket and returned it to him, before I too returned to Beijing.