Ever since the days of reform and denunciation, family members and relatives of landowners, wealthy farmers, intellectuals, monks, and pastors were called bastards and tramps. Every time these people ran into any farmer on the streets, regardless whether these farmers were old, young, men, or women, they had to fold their hands and bow their heads in salutation “We children respectfully greet Sir farmer; we children respectfully greet Madame farmer!” There was a story about a 6 year-old girl who was carrying her little brother in her arms walking around when she ran into an elderly female relative of a landowner. The elderly woman folded her hands, bowed her head, and greeted “Daughter respectfully salute Madame farmer who carries Sir farmer to go play!” Quite a comical story that causes tears. There’s more: on the 15th day of a lunar calendar monk, after being released from prison, a monk at Long Khanh temple, Vu Doai village made sweet rice to offer to the Buddha. As he was putting the rice on the plates, some female followers from the village saw that and said to him “You dirty traitor can not make sweet rice to offer to Buddha! Your job belongs on the field. Leave the sweet rice to us. Go to the field and pull the weeds!” Oh, moral principles and code of conducts! “Good Grief! Eastern Asian civilization is completely robbed, Nowadays, are things up-side-down?” (Tan Da) The poet had already known the heartache, but he fortunately passed away, not having to witness it.
Since the reform days, social orders were turned up-side-down and moral principles were ruined, due to the scene of children denouncing their fathers, wives denouncing husbands, cousins denouncing one another, and all traditional spiritual values were collapsed. This reform and the destructive ideological struggle that lasted for 29 years, causing 3 million people dead, 4 million people injured, and half a million babies born with birth defects, are an extremely expensive price that Vietnamese people have to pay in order to exchange for an inhumane and immoral doctrine which has been discarded right on the land that experimented it first 70 years ago (1917 – 1991). Who must bear responsibilities for that calamity?
I have only told you briefly the general points about the denunciation. Details related to methodologies, terrorizing schemes, and treatments towards defendants while they were jailed before officially being denounced in the court and executed are too terrifying and indescribable. It can only be said to be similar to “The Reign of Terror” during the 1793-1794 French revolution.
After eliminating people’s “blood enemies”, the Communist Party of Vietnam promised to people that it would build an unbiased society in which everybody would have foods and clothes, everybody would be equal, there would be no rich and poor, there would be no exploitation, nobody would have to work for anybody else, agriculture would be motorized nationwide; people 60 years and older who could not work anymore would live in “tranquil and serviced” houses, each of them would have his or her own nice and neat room with a thoughtful service-person assigned to it. A communist society would not have beggars, robbers, prostitutions, addiction, substance abuse; everybody would have a job, there would be no unemployment. Generally it would be a heaven on earth. And later on, if the earth does not have enough space to live due to growth in the population, people would be sent to the moon!
In order to carry out the promise of taking rice fields from landowners and divide them to farmers, the Communist Party divided rice fields to people equally and it did that by official “ownership”. Ownership certificates had to be planted right on each person’s portion of the rice field in order to prove his or her ownership. And to implement “nobody has to work for anybody else”, the Party created “work exchange” teams (a mini version of the Cooperative), meaning each team consisted of 5 or more families who worked together, then one day they would plow one family’s rice field, tomorrow they would plow another family’s rice field; they kept doing that until the last family’s rice field was plowed. Agricultural taxes were very small at the time, so people were very happy; or as speaking in fancy tone, people were “jovial and exuberant.” Over countless years, thanks to “the Party and Uncle’s (1) generosity”, farmers could now have their own rice fields and be true owners. Farmers’ lives in that period were relatively well-off, therefore people loved and trusted the Party very much. Unfortunately, that exuberance did not last much at all, as by 1960, the Party forced people to donate all their rice fields to the big Cooperative so the rice fields could be “publicly owned” and not privately owned any longer. Whatever farmers had had: buffaloes, cows, ploughs, rakes, mills, mortars, rice lifts …etc; basically, all previous private agricultural tools were appropriated to the Cooperative.
Suddenly, farmers found out that they were truly proletariats, they only had 2 hands to labor for credits. This was no different from the old days where they had worked for “brutally exploiting landowner thugs” who fed the farmers well twice a day and paid them with a bushel of rice. Nowadays, working for the Cooperative did not give farmers any rice. In the evening farmers were paid with 0.8kg to 1kg of rice grains wrapped in an areca spathe to take home (1 kg of rice grains equals 0.6 kg of rice, not enough for a healthy person to eat in one meal). Thus, people said to one another that “The Cooperative grows big, use areca spathe to hold rice grains”. Some “inopportune” man said “The Cooperative grows big, everybody becomes hungry” and therefore was summoned to the village People’s Committee. The village official asked him “Did you defame and smear the Revolution with your statement?” The inopportune man answered “I dare not! I meant to say that the Cooperative grows big then there will be no more hunger, everybody would be fed well”. Then the inopportune man leisurely went home. Another “poet” wrote the following verses:
“Early morning: my stomach is already empty
Noon: half-filled, night: nothing to fill”
and therefore was also summoned to the Committee and accused with crime of defaming the regime. The poet rebuffed and said his poem had 4 verses but the people only recited the first 2 and left out the last 2 verses. This caused the poem lacking of its wholesome meaning. The village’s official asked “What are the last 2 verses of the poem?” The poet read:
“Hungry or full doesn’t matter during war time,
After the Americans get out, there are only you and me”
The village’s official said “Oh yes, that is so good!” The poet then casually went home.
In 1980, the Communist Party saw that the business of Cooperative was too deleterious, as nobody tried to work efficiently; people even secretly sabotaged perhaps because even if they worked hard, they couldn’t reap the benefits, unlike what the Party had said “work by ability, benefiting by demands” so they did not effort anymore. They only worked just for the sake of working, then went home to tend their pigs and chicken. Therefore, agricultural productivity kept decreasing heavily. The Party then introduced product contracts, hoping to improve the situation. However, since contracted product payment to Cooperative was too heavy, farmers did not have much rice grains left after the payment; the hunger remained unchanged. Elderly people over the age 60 or 70 who were unable to work on the field, volunteered to join the tree planting teams acting by Uncle Ho’s slogan “It takes 100 years to plant the people; it takes 10 years to plant the trees”. The principal trees planted on both sides of the roads were eucalyptus, conchas, and casurinas. The Cooperatives used the trees for woods to fuel brick plant or to build warehouse.
One day, there were about eight elderly men and women who carried the trees to plant on the sides of the road leading to Vu Doai temple. These people stopped by the temple to catch their breath. I asked them where they were headed, and they responded they were planting trees to earn points. I curiously asked them how many points they would get from planting the trees. They answered that they earned one point for every 5 trees planted, which was equal to 0.1 kg of rice grains. I asked “I’ve heard that you were placed in Tranquil and Serviced houses with thoughtful service-persons assigned; why did you have to plant the trees to earn points?” They answered “We don’t know what the future holds, but presently we are still “servicing customers on the streets for food.” It is odd that tranquil and serviced houses became “servicing customers”, as these elderly people said.Furthermore, only a few days after the trees were planted by the elderly people, they were either uprooted or ruined at night. Therefore, Cooperative’s buffalo herding children pretended to cheer up elderly people:
Bravo the elderlies who planted the trees
Nine out of ten trees die, only one surviving!
To return the favor, the seniors responded:
The children have good eyes but they are as good as blind
All ten trees die off, what else is left surviving?
This means in the eyes of the children, there were ten trees but only one survived, however, in the eyes of the seniors, all ten trees died! In reality, the seniors only planted the trees on the ground to earn the points to help them get by day-to-day and did not care whether the trees lived or not. The people who uprooted or ruined the trees thought that, when the trees grew big, they would not get anything; so it’s better to get rid of the trees now. Corruption in the countryside is also very popular. Farmers had to pay heavy product contracts; and if they did not harvest enough to pay the contact they had to pay out of their own pockets. Therefore they had to cry out to plow machine operators to plow the field carefully so they could have a good harvest. On the contrary, plow machine operators plowed the fields unevenly; or if the contract called for 3 rounds of plow of the field, they only plowed the fields twice. Working like that would leave the operators with some extra gasoline that the plow machine company provided to each plough, and the operators took that extra gasoline to sale in the black market. But plowing the fields carelessly like that would yield bad harvests. Therefore, farmer had to kill chicken and cook sweet rice to feed the plough operators, hence there is a saying among people that “black buffalos eat grass, red buffaloes eat chicken”. Black buffaloes are real buffalos, red buffalos are plow machines because they were painted red color of the revolution. How whimsical, in the old days people had had to give chicken to exploiting landowners, today people had to bribe plow machines with chicken. Out of the frying pan into the fire! Later, however, the plow machines thought that chicken could only be eaten alone, and this was not fun, therefore the plow machines only accepted money and rice so they could take home and enjoy the perks with their wives and children.
The same thing happened in the area of electricity. In the countryside, electricity could only be used to pump water onto the fields for farm work. In harvest season, whichever Cooperative who wanted to have water pumped into rice fields had to use meats and sweet rice to “grease the palm” of the officials who managed the power station. Otherwise, they had to keep waiting for the officials to switch on the water pumps, even if the harvest had already passed. The Cooperative was afraid that if it kept dragging on until the harvest season already passed, the harvest would be bad and would not provide enough rice grains to pay taxes to the government, which is another danger. Hence, the Cooperative could not wait and had to take rice and meats to the officials. Therefore, there was another modern humorous saying among the people “A kilogram of watt requires a kilogram of oink.” Oink is pig’s cry, watt is a unit of power. Another saying, not less humorous, is “A cutting board gives birth to a switch.” A cutting board is used to chop meats and is always going with a knife. A switch is the power switch; it is switched on whenever there are meats and rice, otherwise it is switched off. Furthermore, in the village, any well-to-do family who wanted to have lights in their house, especially during New Year’s day or weddings or funeral ..so on, had to ask the power station’s officials for permissions to have the power connected to the house. Of course, there must be chicken, port, and sweet rice to show the path. Hence, people had another folk-song
“To get electricity connected to your house
Pork stomachs, chicken stomachs have to join in a bouse”
It is funny, the communists previously had accused the capitalists of monopolizing all means of productions in order to sponsor exploitation of workers; but now the communists had plow machines and power stations, they did not spare the people either! There are many other humorous sayings and folk-songs about corruption in the countryside, such as
“Each person works doubly hard,
So officials can buy their radios and cars.
Each person works triply hard,
So officials can build their houses and expand their yards”
There are also many funny stories in other areas, but I don’t intend to talk about them. I only detailed a few of the examples.
(to be continued)